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Posts tagged ‘Royal Academy summer exhibition’

RA Summer Exhibition – Grayson Perry steals the show

Now in its 245th season, the annual Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy is reputed to be the largest open-submission exhibition in the world, and also one of the oldest. Yet while it is billed as being a show which offers all artists, no matter their qualification, notoriety, nationality or skill, the opportunity to submit work and be hung amongst a who’s who of some of Britain’s most prominent contemporary artists, it is more often the case that those prominent artists more than overshadow those lesser knowns who are lucky enough to have their work selected for the show. In previous years, the non ‘Royal Academician” artists have been crammed into the smallest possible spaces, while the larger galleries have been given over to the same old RA clique, whose submissions never appear to differ from one year to the next.

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In that respect, this year’s show, just opened at Picadilly’s Burlington House, is very similar. The same old-same old is prominently hung, including works by the likes of Albert Irvine RA, whose florescent acrylic daubs continue to repel me despite my being consistently exposed to them at each annual Summer Exhibition, and Eileen Cooper RA, whose rather simplistic portraits look more craft fair than art show to my mind. Having said that, the RA appears to have learnt from past grumbles, and has not crammed the non-RA artists into a single small room, rather opting for a “Salon-style” floor to ceiling hang in many of the larger galleries, which, while rather bewildering to look at, at least makes for a more pleasant viewing experience when the large crowds of people, attracted no doubt by the smaller price tags, cluster around these works hoping to invest in the lesser known, affordable artists.

An El Anatsui "sculpture" hangs over the facade of the RA for this year's show

An El Anatsui “sculpture” hangs over the facade of the RA for this year’s show

While the Salon-style hang inevitably means that there are way more pictures on show than anyone can possibly take in on one visit, it does at least mean that there are huge rafts of works on show, and undoubtedly something to suit every taste. In keeping with my positive experience of last year (which resulted in my making two purchases), my favourite gallery of this year’s show was no doubt the print room – a gallery full of prints of all mediums, from etching to relief, screen printing to woodcuts, and I was very happy to see the artist Adam Dant on show at least twice, one of whose encyclopaedic works I had bought last year.

Adam Dant, The Mouth of Italy (Venice) hangs at this year's show © Adam Dant

Adam Dant, The Mouth of Italy (Venice) hangs at this year’s show © Adam Dant

Many of the subsequent galleries flew by in a rush of sculptures, architectural models and so-so paintings. Only a few works really stood out enough for me to remember them subsequently, amongst them Julian Opie’s Maria Teresa I, which I adored, and reminded me of a pop-art Velazquez court-painting.

Julien Opie's Maria Teresa I © Julien Opie

Julien Opie’s Maria Teresa I © Julien Opie

But undoubtedly the real star of this show and the work for which a visit to the exhibition is alone worth a visit, is one Grayson Perry, the witty, perceptive, social-commentating, cross-dressing craftsman and artist. I first estolled the virtues of Perry when I took a trip to his British Museum exhibition one year ago. Now, at the Summer Exhibition, a whole gallery (the last in fact) has been given over to a set of 6 tapestries by Perry which, under the combined title The Vanity of Small Differences, tell the story of one Tom Rakewell, whose rise and fall through life is captured insightfully and comically across these brilliantly detailed, multi-coloured and superbly designed Hogarth-inspired tapestries.

Details from The Vanity of Small Differences © Grayson Perry

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As is so typical of Perry’s work, these tapestries offer a spot-on insight into what some call Britain’s “tribes”, from stay at home frustrated mother and groups of rowdy clubbing slappers, to our aspiration for the “high life”, a tendency to attack those who the masses perceive as “upper class”, and our obsession with money, gadgets and celebrity culture. There’s so much to take in in these brilliantly conceived tapestries, and even as I write, I am itching to go and see the works again so that I can take in more of the feast of details which Perry offers up for our consumption. In the meantime I include images of all six tapestries to tempt your taste buds, as well as some shots of the wonderful details which are literally stitched into the richly weaved layers of this work.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters © Grayson Perry

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters © Grayson Perry

The Agony in the Car Park  © Grayson Perry

The Agony in the Car Park © Grayson Perry

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close  © Grayson Perry

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close © Grayson Perry

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal  © Grayson Perry

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal © Grayson Perry

The Upper Class at Bay  © Grayson Perry

The Upper Class at Bay © Grayson Perry

Lamentation  © Grayson Perry

Lamentation © Grayson Perry

The Summer Exhibition is now open at the Royal Academy and runs until 18th August 2013.

Summer Exhibition at the RA: How a private view can make the mediocre marvellous

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When the viewing conditions are right, even the most mediocre of art can appear wonderful. When your mood is carefully massaged by fortuitous circumstances, your mind will be opened, and you’ll look for the positives in everything. Look what happened a few months back with the huge David Hockney exhibition at London’s Royal Academy: On my first visit, the gallery was so packed I came out spitting blood (almost literally as the hustle in the giftshop between usually restrained “Friends” of the RA to grab as much Hockney merchandise as possible almost ended up in fisticuffs). What was all the fuss about Hockney? He can’t even paint, I thought, bitterly. However, when I went back a few weeks later at the behest of my partner, first thing in the morning, tactically skipping the first couple of rooms and emerging, victoriously from the crowds into an empty exhibition beyond, I began to see what all the fuss was about. The paintings were so atmospheric, airy, colourful, pleasing. It was all about the viewing conditions.

The central Matisse-red gallery complete with sculpture by Leonard McComb RA

The same, now, can be said for my experience of the Royal Academy’s most famous annual offering, the Summer Exhibition, which I attended, with my mother, last night. So used to the unseemly crush of packed-in spectators, all vying for space in the Small Weston Room to see the small paintings squeezed unapologetically onto the wall from floor to ceiling, I would always leave the Summer Exhibition feeling resentful. Why had I just spent good money to go along and see a load of same-old mediocre paintings, small canvases of flowers and ovens and animals, not to mention Tracey Emin’s hideous, crass doodles and the repetitive works of the closed-club Royal Academicians? But not this year. Yes, the same old Royal Academicians still dominate, and yes, the ridiculously crap works of Tracey Emin, now named “Prof. Tracey Emin RA” after her recent ascendancy to the role of RA Professor of Drawing (what a joke) are still conspicuous by their unashamed lack of skill (and because of the hundreds of “sold” dots stuck to the frame because people seem to think scrawled depictions of half-vaginas are valuable), but the difference this year was that I attended on a private view. There were literally 80 of us in the entire venue, and those rooms are big. Once the small gathering had dispersed around the place, we frequently found ourselves quite alone in the huge Royal Academy galleries.

The “wave” hanging of small paintings

It was wonderful! Feeling so airy, ephemeral, and almost important, we glided around the galleries in such a good mood that we actually started to point out details of all the paintings, noticing the colours and the skill involved, complementing, and sometimes even tempted to buy and generally loving the whole affair. We were also treated to a talk by the charming Harry Baxter (an “artist educator” at the RA) whose insight into the exhibition made the whole thing instantly accessible and immediately unpretentious. This year’s show, the 244th in the RA’s history was, he explained, a homage to the small and the beautiful, an intentional contrast to the Hockney “Bigger Picture” exhibition where crowds had crammed into the galleries to see vast paintings made up from multiple small canvases. The focus on “small” can only be a good thing – it meant that rather than squeeze into the tiny rooms with hundreds of others to see all the small works, this year the huge central galleries were given over to countless small paintings (some 1,500 in all) which were hung around the walls like a wave of moving art. It wasn’t quite a Salon floor-to-ceiling hang, but it was an all-embracing journey from one artist’s expression to another’s.

So amidst all this good feeling, what were my favourite works? Top of the list has to be Buffalo Grill by Scottish artist Jock McFadyen, not least because I used to eat in one such of the French chain restaurant bang opposite the Moulin Rouge in Paris. This huge green canvas, with an off-centre, almost hazy image of the American-looking chain restaurant made for quite an impact in a gallery in which it easily dominated. It’s almost like the blur of the restaurant viewed from a fast-moving car, and yet the top of the restaurant is crisp and clear, like an after-image of the place stamped onto your retina.

Buffalo Grill (2004) © Jock McFadyen

Top of my list of sculptures, meanwhile, was the super-shiny bronze creation by Leonard McComb RA, Portrait of a Young Man Standing. Only a shame that it has the very modest price tag of £600,000. Against a red painted central gallery (apparently painted as such in homage to Matisse) and reflecting in its polished surface the paintings hung all around it, the sculpture looked truly remarkable. Second place for sculpture had to be given to Professor David Mach RA, whose cheetah made from coathangers, Spike, is an incredible feat of innovation (as was the brilliant recreation of the head of Michelangelo’s David built from the heads of matches, also by David Mach).

Top half of Leonard McComb’s Portrait of a Young Man Standing

David Mach RA, Spike

The architecture gallery was pretty interesting this year, bordering more on the surreal, not least with CJ Lim’s Dream Isle: London, the Victorian Sponge Cake which was a model imagining just that – a city shaped like a sponge cake! Also amongst the architecture were the predictable inclusions of Olympic stadiums and other Olympic buildings, as well as the new King’s Cross station concourse.

C J Lim, Dream Isle: London, the Victorian Sponge Cake

I also loved this by Graham Crowley…

Red Drift No. 3, © Graham Crowley

And this by one of my favourite Royal Academicians, Stephen Chambers RA

Stephen Chambers RA, I Know Trouble (And She’s My Friend)

While this, by Tracey Emin, appalled me…

Upset, by “Prof” Tracey Emin RA

I could go on, and there is of course plenty to look at, and to mention, but hopefully the photos I have included in this post will provide a hint of the wonders on show (except of course for Tracey Emin’s “Upset” which is included purely for the purposes of demonstrating how a totally talentless media novelty can rob some poor talented unknown of a huge amount of wall-space and all the opportunities that go with it).

The Royal Academy don’t always get it right, but with this year’s Summer Exhibition, they really seem to be progressing. Perhaps it’s because of the new president, Christopher Le Brun, or maybe it’s just because of the space all around me, the exclusivity and of course the complementary wine… It’s a question which remains as yet untested, but if you want to have a punt, go and visit the show – as the name suggests, it’s on all summer, and you can find out all of the details here.