For the past 247 years the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition has brought with it a cultural overview of contemporary art in the capital, and this year’s exhibition holds 1,100 works for the avid collector to peruse at their leisure – but [as usual] it might take a while. The show has been co-ordinated by Goldsmith’s Michael Craig-Martin, who has ensured that the vibrancy of his own works are reflected in the brightly coloured galleries walls, taken from the artist’s own palette, creating this year’s dominant Pop Art theme.
Upon entering the courtyard of the RA the viewer is met by a geometrical formation of ‘steel clouds’, created by Royal Academician Conrad Shawcross, this heavyweight creation is juxtaposed with the lolli-Pop lightness of Jim Lambie’s kaleidoscopic staircase that leads you up to the Main Galleries, and perhaps one of the best summer shows at the Royal Academy for some time.
In fact a number of Craig-Martin’s famed graduates can be found among the large array of works on display, all coming together through the RA’s open submission process, and standing united with Royal Academicians, invited guests and members of the public. With his use of colour Craig-Martin elevates this year’s show out of its usual ‘sameness’, a vibrancy that helps to give the exhibition an added energy – even if Lambie’s stairs occasionally cause an error in depth perception that might cause one to exit the exhibition slightly faster than planned.
The Pop Art feel of the exhibition design by Craig-Martin transcends the RA’s usual institutional aesthetic, and the overhead plastic mobile of primary colours by Liam Gillick juxtaposes this elegantly with the RA’s architecture, as El Anatsui – Ghanaian artist and Hon RA – shines forth with the wall-based sculptural work Blood of Sweat, like medieval plate maille , a work that is a tapestry of drink ring pulls. Then there are pots by Andrew Lord, who is collected by the great minimalist artist Ellsworth Kelly.
A sculpture, Captcha No 11 (Doryphoros) by Matthew Darbyshire, who is an invited exhibitor, stands centrally as one enters, bold and colourful like its surroundings. One wonders what the likes of Reynolds, Constable or Turner would make of this monumental art party? One might expect that Turner would enjoy its theatricality and playful tone. One could almost imagine a live display of the artist’s painterly prowess occurring at its centre. The carnival is in town.
A particular highlight this year is Grayson Perry’s Julie and Rob tapestry, a work conceptually linked to the artist’s cross between Hansel and Gretel and a Russian Orthodox church, in the form of his house for Essex – an eccentric dedication to an individual by the name of Julie Cope – the work giving expression to her fictional life through both art and the architecture of the artist’s House, an archetypal symbol of the feminine core of Essex. Apparently bemusing to some, but a reflection of the artist’s current cultural value. In fact Perry’s House would fit thematically with the shows own visual buoyancy.
Linked to this was the rather amusing and incredibly light work by Una Stubbs, currently known for her role as Mrs. Hudson in the television series Sherlock. Her watercolour, Grayson and Measles, depicts Grayson Perry and his teddy bear, Measles. Not to mention Harry Hill’s (yes) portrait of Damien Hirst – no big collars in sight – and probably still better than the artist’s own attempts at mimicking his one true love Francis – OK maybe not.
But more seriously, There are some notable works in the first gallery, with the humour of Homo Bulla, (man is a bubble) by Michael Landy RA, the artist’s neon circles dancing over the pink Craig-Martin walls, sharing space with a very strong ‘abstracted body’ by Wolfgang Tillmans. Another standout, retaining its elegance even over the bright hues of the room is Richard Long’s Mississippi River Blues (Cat No 45, Gallery III), a work shortlisted for the Summer Exhibition 2015 prize.
But the ongoing Salon-style of cramming in a vast amount of art that is all handpicked from over 12,000 entries – the quantities of art are always mind-boggling – leaves one having to decide on a particular interest – or fear leaving under the influence of a serious visual-art-overdose – and then attempt that afore-mentioned Lambie Staircase! But this year’s exhibition is certainly heading back towards relevancy.
Summer Exhibition 2015 – Royal Academy Of Arts – until 16 August 2015
Words: Paul Black. Photo: © P A Black, 2015