I was rather taken aback when walking into the courtyard at the Royal Academy to be confronted by a slate building. The structure looked every bit like one of those business units which is put up by Cumbrian farmers when they get a grant for “farm diversification”. What on earth was it doing in the centre of London? It turns out it was the RA’s attempt at the reconstruction of what is known as the Merz Barn, which had been used as a studio by the German artist Kurt Schwitters in Elterwater. It is known as a barn, but was in fact a hut or lean-to and has achieved iconic status as a work of art in its own right. One wall of the original has been removed to Newcastle University, where it has been valued at £14 million, a sum of which Cumbrian farmers can only dream, grant or no grant.
The picture below shows the original, the picture above, the reproduction. They are not even close approximations. The original was made of rough slate which had become beautifully weathered over time. The reproduction is made of newly quarried cut slate with a smooth finish and no weathering. Old, weathered walling slate is readily available- in fact I bought a few tons of it the other day. If this structure had formed part of a show garden at Chelsea it would have been derided. This is a shoddy piece of work of which the Royal Academy should be thoroughly ashamed.