Most weeks, choosing the armchair lady to put at the top of this column is easy enough, exhibitions being consistently good, bad or so-so. Not this week. No armchair lady exists who could encompass the horror of some works in David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, and the wonder of others. Given that our designers might struggle to devise a figure throwing streamers with her left hand while putting a gun to her head with her right, I am going to award this schizophrenic show two armchair ladies, one standing and clapping, the other slumped in despair; the first time I’ve done so in 13 years as a critic for this paper.
The problem is one of power. As artists get older and more established – Hockney is 75 this year – so their position becomes less assailable. If England’s greatest living painter wants to put 200 works in his Royal Academy retrospective, rather than, say, 50, who will tell him not to? This is especially problematic because Hockney’s fame rests on his fecundity.
Once upon a time, there was Hockney, the painter of Speedos. Now, there is Hockney the set designer, Hockney the returned Yorkshireman, Hockney the iPad doodler, Hockney the film maker and a number of other Hockneys, each jostling to make their voices heard. The artist himself is clearly of the view that each of these voices is worth hearing. I am not.