Art at the British Academy
Exciting new opportunities opened up by the redesign at Carlton House Terrace
2024 will be a very exciting year for art at the British Academy. The Academy’s Art Collection includes over 100 works: paintings, ceramics, limited edition prints, photographs, textiles, video and sculpture. Our Art Committee, composed of Fellows and co-opted external experts, advises the Academy on the acquisition, location and maintenance of the works which derive from a variety of sources: loans, donations, bequests, commissions and purchase.
The Collection is guided by an Art Collection policy with a focus on modern, contemporary British art. Artists represented in the collection include Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney, and Paula Rego. It includes loans from galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery and the Slade Collection at UCL, as well as from individual artists. It also benefits from bequests from Fellows, such as the collection from Professor Ray Pahl FBA. A fantastic bequest from Professor Annette Kuhn FBA is ongoing with a current loan of an Anthony Frost print: Abba Zabba Blue.
The transformation of the lower floors at Carlton House Terrace by architects Wright & Wright will result in three wonderful new, light-filled, double-height event spaces which will transform the potential for displaying this collection within the Academy’s home.
This re-hang of both new and old artworks, combined with our ambition to open up the Academy to new and bigger audiences through our new cultural events programme, give us an exciting opportunity to position the Academy as a fabulous art ‘destination’, for art lovers and the culturally curious alike.
Artworks are already being earmarked for the new and existing public spaces (many of them are currently housed in the staff areas and in storage, while construction is ongoing) and the Art Committee is busy supporting the archivist, librarian and curator in finding appropriate pieces to adorn the walls downstairs following a recent site visit. We were excited at the last Showcase event to present two acquisitions, prints by Emma Stibbon RA and Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA, bought as a result of the Academy’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategic review policy.
Modern Magic (in pink) 2022 is by Yinka Shonibare, who has long been on the Committee’s wish list as top priority. It is a very striking work and although it is a print (one of an edition of 35), it is also unique in that the textile fragments, which are real, differ in each one. The masks depicted are from Picasso’s collection. He confronts head on the problem of primitivism in modern art and turns it back to us.
Another new work is a print by Emma Stibbon, Tabular Berg, 2022, who is a Royal Academician and was a student at the British School in Rome. She is very committed to environmental and climate change issues, and this print is based on a trip she made to the Arctic. It is a very subtle print using unusual aquatint and etching processes.
There will also be an opportunity to re-hang important pieces by Patrick Hughes and Joe Tilson, and conversations are underway regarding the acquisition of a new artwork as we look ahead towards the grand opening of the newly redesigned building. We look forward to sharing more on our art plans as 2024 gets underway.
Sharon Messenger is the British Academy's Archivist, Curator and Librarian.
Professor Dawn Ades FBA is Chair of the British Academy Art Committee.