In its 257th edition, the Royal Academy puts on their Summer Exhibition, an annual open-submission art show of painting, sculpture, printmaking and more, with artworks contributed by established as well as emerging artists. Ends 16 August 2015.
Presenting the Royal Academy, now in high-def technicolour
Coordinated by Michael Craig-Martin RA, this year’s Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts (London) certainly does not shy away from the rainbow… Follow the candy-stripe staircase (‘ZOBOP’ by Jim Lambie) upwards, through the double-doors into the Wohl Central Hall, to be immersed in aquarium hues from floor to ceiling.
There are 12 galleries to see in all; after the Wohl Central Hall, the Lecture Room is painted a summer sky, and filled with more than 100 sculpture and 2-D works. Starkly captivating, something charcoal-against-blue at the back captures my attention immediately; yet it is the quietly assured and well-positioned ‘Norman’ by Fiona Long that I don’t miss as I head towards the other end to get a closer look at Tim Shaw’s ‘Erebus’. Achingly fragile and beautifully terrible, ‘Man on Fire‘ is a dark angel, frozen in an instant a few inches above the gallery floor.
Gallery V offers a more subdued curation, with over 150 prints selected by Norman Ackroyd, Senior Academician. Aside from etchings, woodblocks, linocuts, and other prints, there are a few sculptures here; while in Gallery VIII, I particularly liked the eerily fascinating ‘Buddha’ by David Mach RA. It seems the Enlightened One’s face is pierced by 200 wire hangers…like some kind of Holy Hellraiser. As eye-catching as it is, I’m not sure how I feel about this one…
Then in Gallery III, the artwork more sparsely populates the room, decorated a brilliant azalea hue selected by Michael Craig-Martin RA to ‘enhance the colour and form’ of each painting and to surprise the viewer with elements of ‘joy and harmony’ in the exhibition. Craig-Martin’s neon-bright prints and acrylic works of everyday items (such as a watch, a shirt, a take-away coffee cup) pop up throughout the show and some, such as the etching of the iPhone framed behind glass, encourage ironic selfies.
‘Radical landscape’ is the main subject of Gallery II, hung by Jock McFayden RA, who found himself leaning towards works during the selection process that did not strictly adhere to the original idea. Themes related to environment are very much present with ‘an idea of Britain now’ interwoven throughout the space, while here and there, the hang detours from pure landscape.
Aside from the usual fine art, the RA Summer Exhibition includes the comprehensive display of architectural design in the Large Weston Room; four big tables are landscaped with maquettes, each wall hung tightly with illustrations and design concepts. Running along the chair rail read various quotes germane to architecture or landscape design, e.g., “Transforming pragmatic to poetic and back again” or “The art of landscape is to trick nature into improving man”. For me, it’s these profundities that make this room work as a cohesive installation.
The most successful and engaging gallery, for me, was Tom Phillips’ ‘A Human Document‘ in Gallery X, which amounted to over 350 roughly A5-sized pages taken from a Victorian-era book of the same name, each leaf hand-edited by Phillips, contriving a new narrative complete with extractions, illustrations and layering. Two of my very favourite things in one artwork – books and drawing – if only I and my companion had entered the exhibition by this room; “Go on without me”, I would’ve said, “I could be here all day.” (I can’t wait to receive my hard-cover copy from Amazon, ordered on the bus ride home.)
This is my first time at RA’s Summer Show, so it was a little overwhelming to be confronted by such a dense installation, where in the traditional salon-style hanging, every artwork is placed inches from the next. What viewers must keep in mind is that most artworks are for sale, receiving an income upon which the RA is dependent to keep its free-tuition art school in business (as it has done for nearly 250 years). So this annual event, first opened by King George III in 1769, is one of the original art fairs, and remains an English summer tradition along with Pimms, the Proms and the Royal Ascot.
Crammed to the rafters with over 1100 works, don’t expect to see everything in your visit (nor indeed anything terribly shocking – this is the Royal Academy after all) – but rest assured, generally speaking, each piece is well-thought, executed with skill and passion, and installed with astute consideration, with respect to the adjoining works as well as to the history and grandeur of the Royal Academy itself.
In a nutshell, we’re talking about hundreds of contemporary artworks in a splendid, historic London landmark. Not bad for one afternoon, 12 quid, and about a penny an artwork, possibly making this one worth seeing again.
Oh and this year, the RA gets with the times and allows visitors to take photographs #RASummer #RA #contemporary #art #hooray #wearefinallyinthenewmillennium #noselfiesticksallowed
More links and info about RA Summer Exhibition 2015
- Read more about the 2015 Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts
- See more artwork and publications by Michael Craig-Martin RA, Coordinator of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2015
- Buy ‘A Humument (A Treated Victorian Novel)’ (2012 ed. – paperback) by Tom Phillips – on amazon.co.uk
Reviews of RA Summer Exhibition 2015
- “How to brighten up art’s Groundhog Day” by Ben Luke for the Evening Standard – 4 June 2015 – “Colour is a useful device for standing out…a bright idea, in both senses of the word, because the Summer Exhibition can be art’s Groundhog Day” – 4/5 stars
- “A high-end junk shop” in The Telegraph by Alistair Smart – 4 June 2015 – “If the Academy wants its annual show to be relevant again it needs to get rid of the clutter” – 3/5 stars
- “Has ‘co-ordinator’ Michael Craig-Martin made it a coherent show?” by Karen Wright for The Standard – 8 June 2015 – “Perhaps next year…split into three shows, an architecture, a sculpture exhibition and a curated show by an RA, instead of trying to cram it all into one exhibition.”
- “Best show in London this season with eye-popping colours and a rainbow of stellar artists” in Culture Whisper Magazine (online) – undated, June 2015 – “The biggest names can fall the flattest while complete unknowns can shine brightly – that’s the joy of this playful and unique show. With the rainbow of colour and the radiant light bounding through the galleries” – 5/5 stars.
- “Review: Architecture gallery, RA Summer Exhibition” in BDOnline by Paul McGrath – 5 June 2015 – “Ian Ritchie’s curation explores the relationship between buildings and their evolving landscapes”
- “Riot of Colour” by Victoria Sadler for Huffingpost Blog – 5 June 2015 – “exciting, dynamic… full of craft mixed with a dash of showmanship…A great experience. But set aside some time; there’s a lot to see”
Exhibition details: Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition 2015 is on from 8 June through 16 August. Paid admission, step-free access.