The Royal Academy of Arts is the place to go to see and silently, reverently admire (but not touch and certainly not photograph!) the works of great artists: past and present.  Great artists have worked toward Sensing Spaces but touching, climbing and photographing the works show all go uncommented on by the RA staff.  Most exhibitions have small notice by each work stating who made it, what it shows, what materials were used in its making and a guidance on what to think, not so with Sensing Spaces.

You enter the first gallery to read a blurb that tells you that architecture is the artform that affects people the most, that seven architects from around the word have contributed work to the exhibition and there are ipads in the first room for you to look at afterwards. Ignoring the lure of the electronic devices I turned left into the largest of the RA’s main galleries.

Sensing Spaces

Installation (Blue Pavilion) by Pezo von Ellrichshausen.
Photo (c) Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014. Photography: James Harris.

Dominating the end of the room is what looks like a wooden oil rig.  Wwalking towards it I glimpse a hand through a tiny hole, can it be that someone is up there? Not until you are almost on top of the structure do you notice doorways in the back of the ‘legs’; nobody explains, there are no notices, so curiosity draws you up the spiral staircase.  Once there you are treated to a birds eye view of the gallery and a close up of its magnificent gilding.  The only ‘don’t touch’ sign I saw was just beneath a golden angel  requesting that  the historic architecture go unmolested.

Sensing Spaces

A thick, black blanket lies over the entrance to another room.  Pushing it aside you glimpse a darkened room with tiny pin pricks of light.  Once in the room you see that each light point seems to be growing a long fine bamboo shoot, these shoots interconnect to make a mesh. The whole room smells lightly of Japanese Cypress.   I don’t know if it was,  the light, the waving bamboo or lack of coffee but my balance felt oddly off centre in the room.  The next door is also draped in a blanket and beyond it a similar bamboo mesh but this time around the perimeter of the room and a smell of tatami mats.

Sensing Spaces

Installation by Kengo Kuma.
Photo (c) Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014. Photography: James Harris.

Another room is filled with an arch made of honeycombed plastic.  Big buckets of long coloured straws are scattered round the room.  The temptation to grab a straw and adorn the arch is too great, the room attendants look on benevolently.

Sensing spaces

Diébédo Francis Kéré installation, Catherine’s addition!

Each room in the Sensing Spaces exhibition makes you feel differently.  The galleries are very familiar but these installations make you look at them in a different way.  Joy was my overwhelming emotion in response to Sensing Spaces.  If you find yourself in London this Spring head to the Royal Academy before you go to any other gallery.

The RA has an excellent café and restaurant but Friends of the RA fare even better.  Friends get to eat lunch in the Keeper’s House next to the RA, members of the public can join them for dinner.

Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London
10am-6pm daily.
Admission £14. Children under 12 free, Friends of the RA free


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