Guess how many artworks are submitted to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition every year. It is the world’s largest open submission show, but even so did your guess come anywhere near 12,000? The summer exhibition at the Royal Academy is art on a very big scale.
The Salon-hang style of some rooms is too dense
With most shows you buy a ticket and then wander through the galleries looking at all the images. You could do that here, but you would be at Burlington House for several days. Over 1200 pieces are on display, so to stop you having to take a sleeping bag with you The Flaneur has put together a list of the highlights of the show, choosing one work from each of the grand galleries.
The 1200 works on show are not a direct 10% of the submission, because as well as the public submission Royal Academicians are invited to hang work. Also one room has been given to Cornelia Parker to curate and she has invited artists who have provided work outside of the public submission.
Right. Put on a pair of comfy shoes and let’s go…
This is a collection of works by new Academicians. Star of the room is (6) Helena, by Marlene Dumas. A bold portrait of a woman who towers over you, slipperily painted with loose brush-strokes, a wry smile playing on her lips. Edging out from behind a pale surface, the paint is full of lumps and bumps, drips and spills. Spontaneous yet carefully posed, floating out towards the viewer, hair flowing like Venus coming ashore in her scallop-shell ferry.
The Art of Commerce 2 by Pauline Amphlett (376). Housed in a vitrine, this piece consists of the Art Buyer Quiz, and a badge emblazoned BUY ART NOW, ASK ME HOW! The quiz is more of a survey, you can imagine being stopped in the street and being asked Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about art? Given the RA Summer Show is a selling exhibition, the questions about art buying habits fit in well. But when you check your answers with the results you’ll find that the advice given is ubiquitous. No matter what your answers have been you should BUY ART NOW! A mocking look at the insatiable art market of which the RA Summer Show is part.
(105) Stolen Thunder II by Cornelia Parker. This piece has grown from a photograph Parker took of a popular print in a previous Summer Exhibition. That photograph was exhibited last year, and built up its own red dots around the edge as the edition sold. 2014’s print is a photograph of last year’s piece. The red dots from the original sale remain, as do the red dots from last year’s show and the new ones from this year. Another meditation on the value of art and the easy appeal of the already popular.
A small Gillian Ayres, high on the wall. The nearest the Royal Academy has to street artist Hunto.
Vibrant, but hung too high, (733) Across the Wadi by Frank Bowling. Formed from drips and spatters and built from smaller sections of canvas stuck together. A large piece that makes an optimistic and emotional work from its constituent yellow and orange parts.
Full of sculpture, the stand-out piece is (828) Tumble Block by David Nash. A large cube of charred Sequoia, balanced uncertainly to the side of the gallery. Black dust is falling off it, it seems to creak when people walk past. Natural, yet geometric, textured, burned, yet still solid, in 2014 it can be read as the ongoing resistance of nature to human intervention. Broken, changed, but still in charge.
(908) Two Nuns by Ron Arad. Does the wheel need reinventing? Arad thinks so and has designed a bike based on sprung steel wheels, each looking like a 16th century Dutch ruff. A video shows him riding the invention. It works, in good weather, in a straightish line. The design looks be unable to cope with taking a bend at speed, but it shows a new way of thinking about travel and manages to include suspension within the wheel itself.
Anthony Eyton has been an RA since 1986 and has several pieces in this year’s show. His small, heavily worked impastos sit high on the northern wall of the gallery. He has stuck with the traditional still life subjects of fruit and vases on a table. Of the four, (996) works best, no area of the canvas being left bereft of thick paint.
Shooting wild animals and bringing home their heads as trophies is frowned upon nowadays. In (1142) David Mach mocks this old English habit, with a snow leopard’s head made of noticeboard pins.
Still the show goes on. You really need several visits, but if you’re still with us have a look at (1186), The Obby Oss in front of the Crucifixion by Tim Shaw. The wax piece sits on a tall plinth and appears to move gently. Does the plinth have a motor inside, rocking slightly? It turns out the motion is not deliberate, and is merely the movement of the parquet floor underneath it. Historically Christian iconography constitutes the largest area of fine art in the world, but it is rare in shows such as this. The horse sinks to the floor in front of the crucifixion, reminiscent of the similar effect on Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 9, if you’re interested).
(1262) Night Windows 16 by Judith Jones. Most of the images in other rooms are hung high owing to the sheer number of works. This is different. It is deliberately high – not surrounded by other pieces. It’s a struggle to see clearly, but there is warmth and neighbourliness in the glowing street lights and dark blue night sky.
The largest piece in the show and yet easily missed. In (1209) Logo No.131 Richard Woods has taken over a whole wall, with other works by other artists placed on top of it. At least I think it is by Richard Woods – even with the help of a gallery assistant it was hard to fully decipher the which label refers to which piece issue. This fake wood piece is already coming off the wall to the lefthand side, the cheap plywood base becoming visible. Getting allocated such a large part of the wall-space has to count as a success.
Chosen with no reference to the artist’s name, 75% of the works mentioned above are by Royal Academicians. Yet they only make up 30% of the exhibition.
Well done, you’ve made it to the end of the biggest art exhibition of the year. You can now exit through the shop.