Letter: In defence of the Royal Academy

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Sir: David Sylvester (letter, 28 October), who, in the past, has so ably organised the Surrealist and Magritte exhibitions at the Hayward and the late Picasso's at the Tate, has spent the past few weeks privately and publicly attacking the American Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

It is true that this institution has its faults and its exhibition secretary, Norman Rosenthal, who seems to be the main target of Mr Sylvester's ire, is not the most modest or diplomatic person in the London art world. He is an enthusiast, and in his years at the Academy, has been responsible for putting together and bringing some amazing exhibitions to London. Without his presence, the London art world would have been a much poorer place.

The present exhibition of American art is the greatest survey exhibition he (with Christos Joachimides) has yet curated and there has been a lot of criticism of it: little of it has stemmed from those of us who have been deeply involved in many aspects of American art since the Fifties.

With one or two notable exceptions, such as your own Andrew Graham-Dixon, this country has been ill served in recent years by its art critics. Why has their ignorance, slovenliness and, above all, laziness, not been questioned? I do not know what their editors think of them, but the sooner the problem is faced, the better it will be for all of us. They have, by their pettiness and their negative attitudes, damaged London as an international art centre.

This survey at the Academy gives a better idea of American art than has been seen in any previous museum exhibition. Of course there are omissions and mistakes, but does this really matter? We in London have been given the opportunity to see some very great art that we would not normally have seen unless we had trekked through countless American museums.

The Academy is an independent institution and serves a unique function as such. The present assaults are obviously damaging to it and this is unforgiveable. I suggest that a little generosity and optimism, rather than sourness, would do us all some good.

The exhibition at the Academy is alive, important and vital: maybe that is why it is such a threat.

Yours faithfully,


Waddington Galleries

London, W1

29 October