Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Makes Waves Review

The 244th Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition will open its doors to the public on 4 June.  The Academy is proud of its place as the largest open submission contemporary art show in the world. 

In past years it has felt out of touch with much of the more cutting edge contemporary art on offer in London. The work of the Royal Academicians being somewhat staid and traditional while the works on offer from submissions felt like a provincial exhibition of Sunday painters.  However, the current list of Royal Academicians includes several painters, sculptors, architects and printmakers who are more avant garde despite being part of the art establishment.  Inevitably this leads to a more vibrant, exciting show.   Put this together with Tess Jaray’s (this year’s co-ordinator) vision of a series of distinct rooms each with its own sensibilities, curated by different people and the result is an almost fresh feel to the annual exhibition.

Tess Jaray has curated the first two rooms in an inventive way.  The Wohl Central Hall has been painted red in homage to Matisse’s The Red Studio and displays a number of brightly coloured paintings by established RA artists including works by the late John Hoyland (1934-2011) and the late Adrian Berg (1929-2011).  The next room is uniquely devoted to 450 small works which are hung in a wave like motion across the four walls with the belief that just as much energy and concentration goes into producing a small work as in a much larger one.  The effect is rhythmic. The works gel as a whole but are given their own space, which allows you to view them all properly. The works are in a variety of media including oil, acrylic, painted metal, collage and mixed media and in a variety of styles from figurative, photo-realist, to abstract and conceptual.  The aim this year was to encourage the younger generation to apply and to hang their work alongside established artists.  Also, for the firsts time Five Afghani artists are being exhibited.

Other rooms are devoted to prints, architecture, sculpture and a gallery of Scottish and Irish artists arranged by Barbara Rae RA.   The print rooms are impressive and as usual will provide a good opportunity to starting or adding to your art collection at an affordable price.  I’m not sure the sculpture galleries worked with the smaller works being grouped on centrally placed plinths with the walls looking empty.  It felt unfinished.

The most impressive pieces are the charred oak sculpture Hump with a Hole by David Nash RA, Samson an oil, acrylic, steel, pastel and charcoal on canvas by Anselm Kiefer Hon RA and Doric Grey oil on linen by Sean Scully, all of which have been shortlisted for the Charles Wollaston Award.  This is a prize worth £25,000 awarded to the most distinguished work in the Summer Exhibition judged by this year’s panel Humphrey Ocean RA, Dawn Ades and Jackie Wullschlager.  The winner will be announced on The Culture Show BBC2, June 15.

Overall it was a much better quality show than in some years which benefitted from an inventive hanging and from raising the profile of the smaller works and prints. Words: Sara Faith / Photo P C Robinson ©ArtLyst 2012

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