Manhattan Swing at the Royal Academy

We love the Royal Academy of Art and we try to do as many RA Lates as we can, this one not being the first one. It was called “Manhattan Swing” and aimed to emulate the 1940s and 1950s Manhattan of “abstract artists and beatniks in downtown Manhattan, Peggy Guggenheim and her new gallery Art of this Century, cocktail parties on the Upper East Side, Pollock’s drip paintings, jazz, beat poetry, dancing the jitterbug and sipping Martinis at the Savoy as we celebrate the era when New York overtook Paris as the capital of the art world.”

The programme reads absolutely fabulous, ranging from intellectual talks and discussions about relevant topics such as “The Bohemia Incubator: Greenwich Village & Manhattan Post-War Culture” to Beat Poetry readings, live jazz music, DJs, free face painting, dance classes and painting workshops.

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The lobby was turned into a dance floor, two bars, one themed as The Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, where abstract expressionists met up with beat generation authors and poets like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, one themed as Peggy Guggenheim’s Cocktail Party. The legendary art collector who had opened her gallery when she was forced out of Europe by the Second World War.

I think we were just so spoiled by other, better RA and other costume and mask balls, that we all (we were with a few friends) felt that it was quite ok’ish, but not that special.

My wife and a friend of ours got face paintings that looked amazing, we did briefly listen into a couple of  talks, checked out the painting workshop for a minute, but we all had had a tiring week and ended up just sipping a couple of drinks and chatting away. I think with a bit more effort this could have been quite a special evening, so the blame is on us.

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What can’t be talked away, though, is the fact that the actual exhibition is rather mediocre and not well curated at all. At one stage one of our friends quite rightly commented that there must have been a problem with the delivery. According to their big announcements prior to the opening they probably had ordered a best-of-abstract-expressionism collection and instead they got a delivery of more than a dozen Rothkos, more than a dozen Stills, works of artists we hadn’t heard of, way too many interchangeable sculptures of David Smith, and some of the works Pollack produced in his downtime, geesh, there wasn’t much that caught the eye.

There were so many paintings of some artists, that despite having full rooms reserved for themselves alone you’d still bump into the odd (in more than one sense) additional work of theirs in some of the other rooms for no apparent reason.

Nothing can diminish our love for the RA, but we do hope that this was a one-off mistake. Interested in further art exhibition reviews? Click here (Hockney at the Tate), here (RA Lates New Soviet World), or here (Ai Weiwei).

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