Andrew Lambirth

Be selective

From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg Royal Academy, until 18 April Sponsored by E.ON

From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg

Royal Academy, until 18 April

Sponsored by E.ON

It is a salutary and instructive experience to forego the relatively civilised Press View of an exhibition, when only the denizens of the world’s press and assorted successful liggers are allowed in, and attempt to review a show amid the hurly-burly of an average open-to-the-public day. Especially when the exhibition has been talked up to the skies and punters are queuing to get in. Column inches had helped to create the unsatisfactory and uncomfortable viewing conditions in which I found myself last week, and here I am adding to them. While commending the contemporary appetite for culture, I do wish there were fewer people in the world. As usual these days we’re in danger of stifling the thing we love. Although I can’t quite agree with my esteemed colleague who called for his readers to boycott the Academy, I should warn you that this is a large exhibition but very uneven in quality: care has to be exercised in what you linger over, or exhaustion may set in halfway round and some of the best exhibits be missed.

The problem lies in the fact that this is not really a ‘curated’ exhibition, in the sense that it has not been rigorously selected to show only the best. In order to ensure the loan of a handful of famous and mostly French paintings, the Academy has had to accept a huge counterweight of less-than-excellent Russian art, on the basis of ‘you can only have that if you take this as well’. The high diplomacy of exhibition management is a complex art which in this case does not seem to have achieved the best possible outcome.

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