I went to see this year's Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition on the first day it opened to the public on Monday 10th June, mainly because I usually end up going near the end and it's always packed out. I think everyone else who went on Monday thought the same thing too, because it was very busy! It's busy for a reason, the Summer Exhibition is in it self a British Institution. It is always and exciting and dynamic show. There is always something for everyone from the print room, to abstract and figurative painting, sculpture and architecture. For the art novice there are the recogniseable Tracey Emin's and Quentin Blake's, and for the art fan Ian Davenport's, Gillian Ayres' and Nash's sculptures. In between all of the famous artists are Britain's finest amateur and student artists.
Does this format actually work?
Personally, I think not. It is patronising to the public. The exhibition is portrayed as a show representing contemporary art from Britain, selected by the work's merit, not because of an artist's qualifications, fame or the brand they represent. However, judging by the guide book to the exhibition, approximately 70% of all selected work has been entered by Royal Academians [i.e. Tracey Emin RA]. I am not resentful that these artists have been selected or have achieved their RA status. The fact is that every artist with an RA after their name got into the exhibition free of charge, and automatically because of their status with the Royal Academy.
This devalues the Summer Exhibition as it becomes a showcase of the Royal Academians and a few lucky regular artists. As a result this is not a show that represents Britain, but feels more like a self-publicised graduate show for alumni of the RA.
The Summer Exhibition needs to be organised, it needs to be anonymous. In order to fully represent a range of artists' work from Britain, it needs to not rely on its own stock of artists, because at the moment this is a purely nepotist institution. How would this work? Artists, famous, students and amateur alike would be able to apply, pay the same fee and send their works in unsigned, untitled [that could give the game away] and presented unnamed. A panel could judge all the works equally based on merit of the works, the technique, the materials and the concept. We would then have a show that represented current art regardless of status.
A selection of my favourite pieces from the show:
[Please note with some artists I could not find the exact artwork as seen in the show, but have included below a similar piece by the artist as an example]
256 Colours 8Bit, by Ekkehard Altenburger
5 Colour Painting 3, by Nigel O'Neill
Open Block, by David Nash
It's All For You, by Claire Brewster
St. Kilda from Flannan Isles, Norman Ackroyd
Fumaroles, Iceland, Emma Stibbons
Gormire, by Jason Hicklin
The Parting, by Jane Harris
Maelstrom IV, by Marianne Ferm
Snowdonia, by Andrew George
Shard PM, by Lucy Bainbridge
Home of the Gentry, by Stephen Chambers