Monday, April 09, 2012

Hockney is bigger than Van Gogh!

These are the queues of people waiting in the rain at 7.50pm on the final evening of the David Hockney RA - A Bigger Picture exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.  The end of the queue is down to the entrance to Burlington House on Piccadilly.  The exhibition closed at 10pm.

Below you can see my cameraphone photos of different views of the queue on the last night.

Burlington House Courtyard on the final night of the Hockney Exhibition
- my view from the Archway
© Katherine Tyrrell

The view of the queue for the final night of the Hockney Exhibition
from the archway off Piccadilly, all the way across the courtyard to the entrance to the ticket desk
- as seen from Burlington House
© Katherine Tyrrell
My ticket was for 8pm so I was able to enjoy the last two hours of this exhibition before it closed its doors for the final time.

This was my fourth visit.  I'd been at the Press View when it was simply too much to take in all at once.  I'd then taken my sister and Marion Boddy-Evans to see it - and it's always fun to see an exhibition through other people's eyes.

This time I wanted to go for myself.  I'd had a debate with myself along the lines of is it sensible for anybody to go to an exhibition four times - for five days!  I won - and got to go!

Can I recommend to anybody who likes exhibitions at the RA that becoming a Friend of the RA is the way to do it.  I simply printed off my ticket online and walked straight in last night.  Plus you can take a guest for free.

I looked at all the paintings which I'd not had time to look at properly when seeing it with friends

Here's a few thoughts from my last visit

  • The Thixendale trees are still a "wow" every time I walk though the doors
  • I never ever tire of The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate Wast Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - the installation of 51 iPad drawings printed on paper and a major painting on 32 canvases.  This was the room I lingered longest in.  I am now a total convert to the notion of digital art - particularly that involving the iPad.  (I also wonder what the paint colour for the room was as it was a wonderful background for all the artwork)
  • My next favorite room is Room 6 - Woldgate Woods.  It just goes to show what can be achieved when you keep going back to the exact same spot at different times of the year and different times of day.  This time I appreciated much more that staying in the same place allows you to see the differences  in light and seasonal conditions more clearly
There was no dull day on Woldgate
David Hockney
  • I really liked all the work in Room 4 - which was given over to watercolours and first oil paintings from observation. Maybe because these were all in essence sketches and small studies done  plein air.  He was doing something a lot of us do!   The grid display of identically sized work was also particularly effective.  
  • One knockout aspect for me was the charcoal drawings - which were simply stunning.  I never ever tired of looking at these - but only appreciated the relevance of him drawing trees and wood in charcoal on my last visit.
  • It's amazing how good photographic reproductions are these days.  I should imagine very many people probably thought they were seeing the real "Mulholland Drive: The road to the Studio" which is actually still in Los Angeles as it can't be moved
  • reading his books (particularly the biography and Lawrence Weshler's book True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney (which I highly recommend) enabled me to understand much better the whole process associated with the photo collages - and it was much more rewarding to be able to look at these again with this knowledge.  David Hockney: The Biography is already available in the UK and publishes in the USA on 17th April and is a recommended read!
  • I've lost count of how many times I've now watched the snow fall off the tree in the multi-screen film of Woldgate in the snow.  The best bit is still the juxtaposition of the glorious vivid Autumn colours next to the crisp winter colours on Woldgate after snow - and the reminder that this is the same place a few weeks apart.
  • the six iPads displaying his iPad sketches in Room 12 have been going non-stop throughout the exhibition without having any technical hiccups whatsoever!  They are a fantastic way of displaying work in an exhibition.
  • there are no signatures on any of the work except the drawings.  I guess if you can go on adding grids knowing which one to sign would be quite difficult.  I guess they have a mark on the back.
When I was leaving I asked the man on the door whether he knew what the visitor numbers were in total.  He told me that he'd worked for the RA for many years and it was the biggest exhibition he'd ever seen for visitors.  In his view it was bigger than the Van Gogh exhibition in 2010 - partly because they started the late night openings earlier.

That has certainly been my impression every time I've visited.  It was very evident from the beginning that this was going to be a very popular exhibition.  The queuing to get a ticket online or at the Academy never ever stopped - right up until the last night.

What struck me on every visit was how much people were enjoying the exhibition and really talking about the paintings.  

It's as if Hockney has reopened the eyes of middle England to the countryside which surrounds them - and taught them something about how to look at what's really there.

David Hockney RA - A Bigger picture - in Europe

From London, the exhibition now moves to:
  • the Guggenheim in Bibao in Spain: 14 May - 30 September 2012
  • Museum Ludwig, Köln (Cologne) in Germany: 27 October 2012 - 4 February 2013 - the website notes that this will be a slightly different exhibition from the one in London
Most of the works are still in the ownership of the artist and I gather have been donated to the David Hockney Foundation so hopefully will be going on display again somewhere in the UK sometime after the exhibition has finished its travels.



  1. I didn't get to go to the exhibition but would have loved to - watched a couple of programmes about him and he's just a genius ! amazing so inspiring honest and unique - I remember he said to be an artist you need the hand the eye and the heart, that just says it all

  2. I loved the exhibition. I took a sketch book and sketched a few of my favourites, which meant I had to look at them properly. I found this very insightful, and something I will do again in future. I wanted to lay on the floor and look up through the trees. I can imagine the experience in an empty gallery (not that you would ever get this with this exhibition) would be dramatically different and something to savour.

    One thing I did notice was the total absence of wildlife. You associate trees with birds, and the sounds of birds, but there are none to be found here.

  3. As a painter I found it hugely telling and reassuring to see the enormous crowds that flocked to see the Hockney and Freud shows. Painting may be regarded as a 'minor art' by contemporary art institutions but the foot traffic says otherwise.

    At the Hockney show I smiled when I overheard one woman with an Eastern European accent explain to her friend that Hockney 'is a cheerful artist, not like that tortured soul, Freud'.


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