Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Has the RCA Done for Britain? Quite a Lot

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Has the RCA Done for Britain? Quite a Lot

Article excerpt

Byline: Corinne Julius

THE creative spirit fostered by the Royal College of Art is celebrated in a new exhibition this week on its 175th anniversary. With an impressive roll call of celebrities among its alumni, no other institution worldwide has had as much influence on art and design.

Many objects we take for granted and much of our visual environment are the result of work by students and staff of the RCA: you see its influence in the work of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney, Peter Blake and Tracey Emin -- whose piece, The Perfect Place to Grow, gives the anniversary exhibition its title.

This remarkable college's DNA can also be found in the gardens of Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, the shape of a Land Rover or an Aston Martin DB7, the chairs of Robin Day, even an NHS bed and the 125 InterCity train.

RCA Rector Dr Paul Thompson has co-curated the exhibition with Robert Upstone of the Fine Art Society, formerly head of British modern and contemporary art at the Tate.

As a former director of the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York, Thompson is no stranger to curating interesting shows, but this one has been a challenge. "We didn't want to fall into the trap of doing design decade by decade as a kind of roll of honour," he says. "There was just too much work by former students and staff. Instead, the show has four themes: art for industry, public purpose, personal expression and political expression."

The RCA was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design to improve the quality of design in the ceramics, textiles and ornamental crafts industries. One student, Christopher Dresser, enrolled in the school in 1847 aged just 13. Later he became the world's first "industrial designer". James Dyson, today's most innovative design entrepreneur, joined the college in 1966 at the age of 19. The designs of both have impacted on the way we live: some of Dresser's metalware is still in production by Alessi, while Dyson's vacuum cleaners have conquered the world.

Renamed the Royal College of Art in 1896, it became an independent institution, awarding its own degrees, in 1967. …

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