Friday, 02 September 2016

Farewell Summer

The RA’s perennial show of new talent and established stars may be over for 2016, but there is always next year

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Thomas-Blaikie-colour-176As the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2016 closes after a very successful season, it is time to look ahead to next year. The charming tradition of an opensubmission summer show at the Royal Academy has been going since 1769. It is in fact the largest such exhibition in the world, with over 1,200 works accepted. In recent years it has acquired greater prestige after periods of being thought delightful, but sadly just not awfully good.

Now the selection committee has devised innovative ways of grouping the enormous quantity of work. This year for instance there was a fascinating room devoted to landscape in an urban context. Each room was curated by an individual academician and works by established, well-known artists were called in specially. One theme for 2016 was artist couples. There was a remarkable geometric painting by Matthew Collings and his wife Emma Biggs (she chooses the colours and makes the design; he does the painting) as well as a very creepy sculpture by the Chapman Brothers featuring an eyeless male mannequin with Andy Warhol hair (only black), presiding over a wrecked piece of machinery, possibly a lathe. In the same room were framed fragments such as teacups and books that had survived the Japanese tsunami of 2011.

With such a vast amount of art on display, the exhibition might be a challenge to all but the most wildly enthusiastic. There are no labels; the only guide is the free catalogue. It’s tempting to refer to this constantly but it tells you little because most of the artists are not well-known. It’s better to be bold and pick out what you like. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Quite a lot of the work is for sale and affordable. But it’s rewarding of course if you manage to identify a famous artist without help. I liked the work on paper by Gillian Ayres (much more delicate and less ruthlessly tribal than her oils). There were also some very attractive, very well-executed traditional flower and landscape paintings and a magnificent print by Tom Hammick.

The Summer Exhibition reflects our lively and thriving art scene. Not all the work will last but without this frenzy of creativity nothing would. The deadline for submissions for next year will be in February (exact date yet to be announced). So off you go! Otherwise earmark the show for your 2017 diary. Stout shoes recommended.

The Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1: 020-7300 8000, www.royalacademy.org.uk 


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