Today, Monday, 10 June saw the opening of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition now in its 245th year. To some it is an important part of the summer’s calendar of arts events, to others it is a staid, dry event of no great significance. The organisers try to give it a unique feel every year by nominating different curators from amongst the academicians. This year it was the turn of printmaker Norman Ackroyd and architect Eva Jiricna. After the triumph of Tess Jaray’s hang last year, it was a tough act to follow. Jaray managed to create a fresh feel with her wave like hanging of 450 small paintings in one of the main rooms, which effectively gave each work space and credence.
This year the exhibition has returned to the more traditional hang of large paintings in the central room with works on paper and prints crowded and overhung in neat rows and other rooms feeling decidedly under utilised. I often feel that it is a show that should not be visited every year, as the unchanging styles of the academicians are overly familiar yet still manage to overshadow the public’s submissions, which inevitably feel inferior in quality by comparison. A year or two’s break can do wonders. Last year was a pleasant surprise so predictably this year was always going to be an anti-climax. There were however some strong submissions. Bright, colourful abstractions seemed to dominate – my favourites being Innerspace by Frank Bowling RA and the bold Pop Art canvases by Paul Huxley RA. A non colourful muted greys oil on linen by Sean Scully RA also stood out. As for figurative works, I really liked the painting of an abandoned warehouse entitled Tate Moss by Jock McFadyen RA.
The crowded prints and drawings rooms are so overwhelming and hard to take in but I was impressed by A Romance of Many Dimensions by Bella Easton and Iavor Lubomirov which is a 3D piece of 151 hand-cut and handcoloured copper plate etchings layered in a Perspex box inspired by the pattern made by the road markings of a box junction. There were also a couple of Jim Dine’s fighting for attention with the other skied works.
Sculpture was represented by a dominant steel triptych called Shadows by Sir Anthony Caro RA in the Wohl Central Hall, which definitely overshadowed some otherwise significant works by David Nash RA and Cornelia Parker RA in the same room. The David Mach foam and pin vases, one decorated like a Miro and another with a Ming Dynasty pattern were inventive and witty as was the Ron Arad life-size recreation of an original Fiat 500 in steel and bronze rods, Blame the Tools. Kloris by Zaha Hadid has her signature fluid morph like abstract shapes.
The portrait room was uninspiring apart from the Frank Auerbach portrait of William Feaver in graphite and chalk. I needed more time to absorb the photography and the room with the Grayson Perry tapestries, from the Vanity of Small Differences series, was so crowded it was impossible to spend the time needed to appreciate his shrewd observations.
However, it must be remembered that the purpose of the Summer Exhibition is to hold an open exhibition in which a share of the sales directly contributes to funding the students at the RA schools, which receive no public funding. As such the huge crowds that this annual show commands guarantees its importance in London’s cultural calendar.