Future uncertain for Burlington Gardens
Royal Academicians wrestle with how to make the most of their annexe
By Martin Bailey. News, Issue 215, July-August 2010
Published online: 03 August 2010
LONDON. The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is now hoping to complete the long process of refurbishing 6 Burlington Gardens by 2018, when the Academy celebrates its 250th anniversary. The RA acquired the building from the government for £5m in 2000, and moved in three years later. Since then it has been used for occasional exhibitions and art fairs.
During the past decade various schemes to adapt Burlington Gardens, which is behind but does not link to its main building, Burlington House on Piccadilly, have been considered by the RA, but these have proved too expensive. In March 2009 the Haunch of Venison gallery (owned by Christie’s) was granted a lease for most of the building for nine months a year, to help raise funds. This runs until March 2012, and will bring in £4.25m.
Charles Saumarez Smith, the chief executive of the RA, admits that Burlington Gardens has been “a long-running saga, and we don’t pretend to have totally solved it”. Work will be done incrementally and the present plans are likely to cost more than £50m. However, Saumarez Smith is “optimistic” that Burlington Gardens can be completed by 2018.
A major element to the Burlington Gardens project is to create a pedestrian link with Burlington House. This would involve creating a route through its lower ground floor, now the cast corridor of the RA Schools, and then across an eight-metre gap between the two buildings.
The architect David Chipperfield, a Royal Academician, has prepared a masterplan for the building that was submitted to Westminster Council earlier this year, receiving a favourable response. It includes reinstating a lecture theatre on the east side of the building, to seat 320, which will provide a much needed facility. An unnamed private donor has given £6m and it should be completed in 2012.
The top-floor galleries will be refurbished, and the RA is now grappling with the question of whether it should bear the cost of air-conditioning them. The present plan is to use the galleries for contemporary art and architecture (including work by the Academicians), which normally does not require such controlled conditions, but failing to include air-conditioning would limit their flexibility.
The other issue the RA is facing is financial sustainability. The question is whether it can afford to run a major programme of contemporary art alongside its existing ambitious exhibition programme in the main galleries in Burlington House.
The academy is therefore considering a possible tie-in with an outside organisation involved in contemporary art—possibly a commercial gallery, wealthy collector, art charity or public institution.
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