Captain Moonlight: Academic arguments (CORRECTED)

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MORE trouble at t'Royal Academy, I'm afraid. Word reaches the Captain that its current and controversial exhibition, American Art in the 20th Century, may be in danger of making a large loss. Insufficient sponsorship and the danger of too small an attendance over its three-month run are cited as the reasons.

Actually, 'controversial' is a pretty inadequate attribution for the exhibition. The sensitive world of fine art has been in a state of continuous high anxiety over this one. There have been mutters, shrieks, letters, articles - and in one famous case, spitting - over the inclusions and omissions and hanging organised by Norman Rosenthal, the academy's exhibition secretary, and Christos Joachimides, director of the Zeitgeist-Gesellschaft in Berlin, who are described in the latest attack, by Hilton Kramer, in the New York Observer, as the Laurel and Hardy of the London art scene.

'Laurel and Hardy without the talent, that is,' continues Mr Kramer tartly, opining that the exhibition is a 'thoroughly mirthless farce'. People do get upset. The expectoration took place at the exhibition opening, aimed at Rosenthal by David Sylvester, critic and author of another unfriendly piece, in the London Review of Books.

Sylvester subsequently had his invitation to deliver the Reynolds lecture at the academy next year rescinded by Sir Roger de Grey, the president. Latest despatches indicate that Sylvester has offered to kiss Rosenthal, but there was no confirmation of this at time of going to press.

Piers Rodgers, the academy's secretary, declined to comment on 'tittle-tattle' about a potential loss; he said attendance figures were 'pretty good', currently about 2,500 a day, compared with the record 6,000 for the giant hits, such as Rosenthal's Monet.

Sir Roger retires on 10 December; an American turkey would be a sad end to a sway that has restored the academy's reputation and profits. Perhaps we should all go along and have a look for ourselves. Meanwhile, speculation on the new president continues to concentrate on the academy's architects. Sir Richard Rogers, an early front-runner, seems to have fallen away. The other fashionable name is Sir Norman Foster. It looks like a particularly open race, with the clever money looking for a good committee man. The Captain advises a monkey on Foster.


I GOT into something of a twist last week over the expectoration outbreak at the Royal Academy. You will recall that in my piece about the stormy passage of the academy's current exhibition, American Art in the 20th Century, I told you that David Sylvester, the art critic, had spat at Norman Rosenthal, the academy's exhibition secretary, at the press view; in fact, it was Rosenthal who spat at Sylvester after Sylvester had made some provocative remarks about the exhibition. Sylvester's invitation to deliver the academy's Reynolds lecture was subsequently withdrawn by Sir Roger de Grey, the president, after he wrote a letter to the Independent criticising the exhibition. Sylvester will now be delivering his lecture, on Willem de Kooning, elsewhere in London. He has since apologised to Mr Rosenthal for provoking him at the press view; I apologise to him.