Friday, 17 July 2015

Royal Academy of Arts

Piccadilly W1J 0BD
Wednesday July 15th 2015

With Mary in Wales, Jo in France and Linda about to move house the Museum Project was very much taking a backseat but as we had already lost a week’s packing time to overseas visitors we (Linda plus no longer quite so regular 63) gave ourselves a couple of hours away from house-clearing. The Royal Academy is close to its 250th anniversary (hence the start of a new building project) and yes it is another art gallery but one run by artists and still adhering to its founding principles of both providing an education and laying down a collection. Artists elect fellow artists to become Academicians and the Summer Exhibition is their chance to show their works, alongside those selected by the Committee from public submissions.

There is no permanent collection to speak of.  During the rest of the year the RA presents a range of exhibitions: downstairs in the suite of large galleries it usually showcases a single artist or school, the best another culture can offer, while upstairs in the Sackler galleries you can see smaller works which would otherwise be lost in the capacious main rooms. On the whole we prefer the special exhibitions, often very popular (put Monet or Impressionism in the title and you are bound to ‘pull in the punters’) or offering an introduction to art from distant museums in distant countries. The Summer Exhibition, on the other hand, we have found tends to be rather more predictable and formulaic.

Not so this year. The Academy has let some of its artists curate separate rooms and the main person, Michael Craig-Martin, has added a real punch of colour which was clearly very pleasing to the many visitors today, corroborating my theory that bright colours make people more cheerful.
The main staircase, a contribution from Jim Lambie, is a delight and the whirl of colour then ‘subsides’ into a single jade hue for the central gallery bursting into magenta in gallery III but actually the second big room you visit. Craig-Martin maintains ‘magenta enhances colour and form’ though a couple of us women stood there saying ‘this is not magenta – this is pink’. Strangely in the photos it looks closer to magenta so who knows? Maybe the colour choice for the walls was right because there was lots of eye catching stuff to be seen. We enjoyed Anthony Whishaw’s ‘Come Dance with Me’, and of course ‘Reigning Apps and Blogs’. There is also a West Ham alert for ‘I’m forever Blowing Bubbles’ sprinkled over the doorway.
Mick Noon’s Moon and Dawn Fishing made a tranquil contrast to the vibrancy of the rest of the room.    

The next room’s theme was ‘English Landscapes’ interpreted in its broadest aspects – if you read the tabloid press you will know that Simon Cowell has become part of the landscape so it was right that his portrait should be included here – more interesting however were the works depicting  Mr Goldfinger’s  and  Le Corbusier’s buildings .

One of the most popular works must be Grayson Perry’s tapestry entitled ‘Julie and Rob’ – wonderfully subversive this depicts exactly the kind of visitor seen at the Academy today – she complete with her freshly picked meadow flowers (none of those nasty imported hothouse specimens) and he with a somewhat dubious red wine… full marks to  Mr Perry.

Back to buildings in the room reserved for both architectural models and drawings. Not one for Jo this, as she thinks all architects should be condemned to live in their own constructs.   However she might have liked to see the original drawings for the King’s Cross gasholder conversions. Other gems include an intriguing villa in Prague and the inevitable airport. 

Large rooms follow, many of them hung with the public’s works – by public I mean non-Academicians but some are still professional artists as well as amateurs. Different  Academicians with whose work we were fairly familiar  exhibited in further rooms – items were grouped partly according to ‘medium’ thus prints or etchings  and also photographs. We liked the children’s faces as they were about to tackle the adventure playground at Somerford, Tottenham – London featured again in the aptly titled ‘Babel London’ by Emily Allchurch and the very soothing ‘Invisible Cities’ by Tim Head.

Two artists were granted the privilege of a whole room – a South African who sketched trees and slogans over torn pages of a dictionary and Tom Phillips who has spent a lifetime also using the pages of a an old book as background and occasional text  to small postcard sized pictures – neither of which really engaged our attention. 

Overall however we rated this year’s Summer Exhibition as being more absorbing than many, though overall I would say it is a venue where you choose your special exhibition and visit accordingly. The upstairs rooms (the Sackler galleries) often show smaller works requiring closer attention (illuminations for example), while the more recently acquired Burlington annexe has large spaces at its disposal. You pays your money and takes your choice. 

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