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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Blake shakes up Royal Academy
Peter Blake
Peter Blake: Hero of 60s pop art
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

British Pop artist Peter Blake admits he "considered resigning" due to opposition to his changes to the Royal Academy Summer exhibition this year.

Blake - who designed the cover for the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album - has persuaded a group of prominent non-Academy artists from Tracey Emin to Briget Riley to Sir Paul McCartney to take part in the show.

Scene from the RA Summer show
Sir Paul McCartney's Chocolate Sunset is in the far right corner
His decision did not go down well with some academicians and Blake felt under siege.

"It was awful," he told BBC News Online.

"There was a point a couple of weeks ago where there was so much moaning that I literally said to my wife, 'I'll finish what I'm doing and I'll resign'".

Blake was this year's Senior Hanger at the RA summer show, though he has been involved in nine shows and thought that he would use the opportunity to "try to change things."

Upset

He has included a room of work from foreign artists, who usually feature but never in such numbers.

The work of Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Anselm Kiefer feature along side those of Baselitz and a memorial to Balthus.

But the real change, and the one which caused the upset, is the inclusion of invited artists from a variety of backgrounds.

Designer Nicole Farhi's bronze sculptures of curiously lumpen women - the polar opposite of the models for her clothes - feature beside singer Ian Dury's pleasing portrait of a bemused woman in a paisley bra.

Wax Kylie by Rankin
Rankin's Wax Kylie breaks the RA mould
Sir Paul McCartney's Chocolate Sunset has a very unforgiving place near a masterful Bridget Riley and Tracey Emin's appliquéd chair.

All of work displayed in the room are there as a favour to Blake who was one of the heroes of the British pop movement in the 1960s.

"The criteria was one of friendship, and I'm inviting them to be my guests and show a picture here."

"The list of friends just happened to be a distinguished one."

Blake does, however, admit that the draw of the big name was part of the attraction of the idea.

And when I saw the exhibition the room that pulled most visitors was, predictably enough, the room with the work by both distinguished sculptor Anthony Caro and Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer Holly Johnson.

Ruralist

Though Blake says he would never do it again, he does not regret that he has made the changes.

Madonna of Verona Beach by Peter Black
A detail of Blake's Madonna of Verona Beach
"That room is about young and old artists displaying together, the abstract and figurative mixed together and particularly facing up to the question, which we usually ignore, whether photographs are an acceptable art form or not."

The exhibition features Rankin's photographs of Kylie Minogue.

Considering that last year's Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans was a photographer and this year's shortlist features two film artists and a photographer, it is not before time that the RA Summer Exhibition was forced into line.

Blake himself became a ruralist in 1969, leaving London for the countryside near Avon and was a founder member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1975.


I think the RA is a great place, a great place to show your work and by being part of it you can alter it too

Peter Blake
Six of his own works feature in the exhibition, which ranges as usual from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Blake first left his print on the RA summer exhibition 25 years ago when he invited some non-academy painters to take part.

The idea was subsequently dropped but interestingly several of the artists - David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield among them - have since become RA members.

If this venture can persuade some of the Young British Artists, who rarely exhibit outside their own circle, to join the academy then Blake may have set further changes in train.

He refused to join the RA when first invited, he felt at 24 and just out of art college, the last thing he wanted was to be in an academy.

But he changed his mind and why?

"I think its a great place to belong to, a great place to show your work," he says.

"And by being part of it, you can alter it too."

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition runs at the Royal Academy, London from 5 June-13 August.

See also:

27 Dec 00 | Entertainment
The year art was hot
20 Sep 00 | UK
Art's shock treatment
25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Royal Academy doubles in size
28 May 99 | Entertainment
Summer's here with Hockney
09 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Pop goes the Royal Academy
16 Aug 99 | UK
Former RA president dies
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