Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy

Yesterday I visited the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was equal parts nice-day-out-with-friends, reconnaisance mission, and intravenous cultural injection.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Summer Exhibition, what happens is the RA accepts up to two submissions from absolutely anyone calling themselves an artist (for a small fee, obviously – £25 last year). The submissions are then judged by the Council of Academicians and those which achieve that certain something go on to form the exhibition. It should be noted at this point that all Academicians are allowed to have up to 6 of their own pieces in the exhibition. There are 80 Academicians so up to 480 of the 1000 or so spaces could technically be taken up by established artists – something I feel goes against the “this is the largest open exhibition in the world” trumpeting. I kept catching myself thinking “That really reminds me of… oh.” The “oh” being the part when I saw that the established and wealthy artist the work reminded me of was actually by that wealthy and established artist. Step forward Anselm Keifer, Allen Jones et al.

Part of why I was there was to see where my work would have fitted, if at all. I always idly wonder about submitting something but then balk at the reality of it all and hide behind my own laziness. I think some things would have stood a chance but the prospect of actually managing to select pieces which matched the idiosyncratic tastes of Academicians seems rather like a lottery. There were some sketches which felt similar in spirit or style to some things of mine but I would never have submitted mine because I would have thought they were unfinished. Similarly there were cities and pets and buildings I’ve drawn myself but would never have submitted because I thought they were amateurish or anonymously decorative. Beyond this, though, was the realisation that photography – my preferred medium and the only one in which I am confident enough to submit – is very much in the minority. It’s a bit daunting I must admit. I shall submit somthing though and if they don’t like it, well – having seen a lot of sprawling dross this year, the RA not liking it might not be such a terrible thing after all.

It is also worth pointing out that going to see it has reaffirmed my deeply held belief that most people simply want pictures of the seaside, pictures of cats, pictures of dogs, and pictures that are cheap and small. Things that had sold well and were peppered with little orange stickers lacked a crucial vitality and work which had that spark tended to have a well established name next to it in the catalogue – John Hoyland (RA) and his Winter Tiger, Cy Twombly (RA) and The Rose, David Mach (RA) – along with a brow-raising price tag usually. That brings me to something else actually. There’s this idea that by not displaying the name of the artist directly next to the work one somehow forces the audience to stop sifting for big names and actually SEE. This would work better if the titles were not omitted as well. The title can be key to understanding the piece so naturally you look at the work and almost immediately look for the title. The title is in the guide book right next to the name of the artist and the price of the work. Almost instantly you see people scanning up and down for big names and bigger prices, craning their necks to see what could possibly be worth £220, 000 – and I’m as guilty as the next person of that.

So were there any gems, hidden or otherwise? Yes. Namely:

Bill Jacklin (RA) – Crossing the Square in the Snow (I and II) – III is given below so you can see the kind of thing…

Crossing the Square in the Snow III

Crossing the Square in the Snow III

Marcus Harvey – Male and Female nude wearing masks (Tony and Maggie)

Tony and Maggie

Tony and Maggie

George Rowlett – Ripe Corn Near St Margaret’s (Otty Bottom) – the paint so thickly applied you wanted to stick a spoon into the cake-mix of a canvas.

Jock McFadyen – Drummer – stumpy legs and a giant bowtie gave a comic touch to the earnest sculpture.

John Dean – Sculpture of Van Gogh after Self-Portrait of 1887 – Vincent looking melancholy bearing the burden of his own psyche and the indignity of being covered in blue, yellow and orange paint.

Amanda Coleman – Any Space For A Biscuit?/Any Space For A Cake? – this one was a perky painting of a party ring and another of a slice of battenburg. Playful and upbeat.