For the lack of a beach or sunshine in London, you’re bound to find a gallery opening or exhibition to make up for it on any given summer’s day. Don’t think that just because you’re not frolicking along the seashore that you won’t be getting a workout either. Apart from the exhausting flex of that mind muscle you have the opportunity to tramp through an epic showcase like the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition.
The Burlington House institution has been putting on this annual showcase for what feels like the beginning of time (since 1769, to be precise) to finance the training of its student practitioners, with artists from across the UK and the world making submission. With over 12,000 entries from 27 countries, the Academy and its guest curators have had their work cut out for them in containing all the pieces, spanning almost every medium and practice, to 14 rooms and one courtyard. That’s a lot of walking so for the sake of your sanity (and your ‘glutes’), you’ll need to make a judgment call on what you simply must see.
Most rooms abandoned the notion of ‘salon hang’ walls with space to absorb the work, instead opting for a veritable overload of masterpieces. London’s ‘it’ lady Tracey Emin’s signature monoprints and bad spelling were hung sulkily beneath Tom Leighton’s awe-inspiring photograph of the urban landscape ‘Geneva’. Simon Brundret’s mechanical dog, ‘Dog in a Bin’, stood defiantly rummaging through garbage beside the horror of a fleeing Iraqi man on fire in Tim Shaw’s ‘What God of Love Inspires Such Hate in the Hearts of Men’.
It wouldn’t be a world showcase without the ‘Untitled’ fibre-glass work of Anish Kapoor, as well as a cheeky reference to the British nobility archetype with another one of US artist Cindy Sherman’s self-portrait photographs ‘Untitled no. 472’. There’s also no overlooking blue-chip artist Jeff Koons’ ‘Colouring Book’ in the Royal Academy courtyard. As part of his Celebrations series –which includes his famous ‘Balloon Dog’ –the bright and colorful sculpture inspired by the bright blotches of his unruly colouring-in of Disney’s Piglet stands at the entrance.
Where a more conceptual art show like the Venice Biennale is focused on expressing national identity and contemporary political issues, the Summer exhibition is centred on commodified art. There were, of course, exceptions. Olu Shobowale’s ‘Coffin To Die For’, made of chicken bones and those found objects representing mass consumption, would probably be a health hazard to keep near the dining room, while Cornelia Parker’s ‘Endless Sugar’, consisting twenty flattened silver sugar bowls, would hardly be of any use over a cup of tea.
As is to be expected for an exhibition covering art for sale, painting dominated but smacked of being old hat. Although there were some brilliant exceptions. Alexis Harding’s rainbow-coloured work, ‘Turner’, as well as Keith Tyson’s dazzling conception of the fiery apocalypse in ‘Deep Impact’ were both dazzling explorations into texture.
Even popular culture received an interesting treatment from Russian artist Andrei Krisanov’s tongue-in-cheek Albert Hofmann on His Way Home. His was an imagining of the pixelated world the late Swiss-scientist Hofmann might have enjoyed during one of his famous LSD trips. Finally, the young artist Nicky Carvell’s ‘Elipseer’ and James Howard’s satirical ‘Six Figure Income’ come closest to the contemporary world’s digital culture. Their work makes one infinitely more aware of the current realities of our computerised world, especially within the context of the delirious art overload that is the Summer Exhibition.
The Royal Academy of Arts exhibition runs until 15th August. More info on their webpage.