Bottle-tops, bravura and a touch of bawdiness: Royal Academy’s 2013 Summer Exhibition offers a seasonal synthesis, By James Brewer
A sense of humour peeps through the cascade of works chosen for the 2013 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, open from June 10 to August 18 2013. This lighter but often deeper aspect is something that escapes some of its sterner critics.
Yes, fine art is a serious matter, but must be allowed its head. The 245th exhibition of its kind at the Piccadilly institution has been coordinated by printmaker Norman Ackroyd and architect Eva Jiricna, and boasts of being the world’s largest contemporary art show for open submission, with Royal Academicians guaranteed a quarter of them and some hogging what space they can.
In this summertime extravaganza of more than 1, 200 works, the sun shines, but contemporary art is not merely the province of the young – some artists are in the autumn and even winter of their lives.
X marks the spot for the most ‘outrageous’ display. In Gallery X, Grayson Perry show his series of six tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences, based on Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and on journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds. They are large works with titles such as The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal. A Madonna with a mobile phone, and a golf bag labelled Aspiration, are among many pointed juxtapositions. In similar vein, a linocut Dolor by Richard Galloway pictures a complex dystopia with a bar selling “ludicrously tasty chicken” and a high street shop with the sign “Evict the Weak.”
In the portraits section, one of the most striking is the image of supermodel Kate Moss, larger than life-size and as beautiful as she ever has been. She sat for Allen Jones, known for his sexually direct use of illustration, who superimposed on her representation a transparent yellow bodystocking moulded to the female form.This isKate Encased, “oil on canvas with shelf.”
In gallery II, there is exuberance from printmakers, some in their 70s. A younger artist, Chris Kenny, gives us one of his collages assembled from scraps of paper, copied in a digital print, and entitled Menu. This must take the (notional) prize for the most amusing piece in show: it parodies posh menus, and includes “faux workingmen’s fodder of tiny fish and chips, ” and “one stagione short of the full quattro” washed down with “that expensive Sancerre that she likes, ” and concluding with “lemsip and a blanket.” Taking up a more ancient and solemn theme, nearby is Adam Dant’s ink and watercolour Venice (Mouth of Italy) cogently imitating pages from a Medieval atlas.
The splendid Chris Orr, a veteran printmaker fascinated by the nautical world of yore, presents variously in engraving and lithography three intensely detailed expositions full of allusions and witticisms: a bustling maritime scene centred on the Thames, ad a more bawdy Brueghelesque Custard, Corsets and the Universe, London’s Past Revealed. His View of Delft honours the Dutch city’s heritage in maritime, theatre and arts, with blue, red and yellow tints on black and white. Meanwhile, Magda Archer is topical with an acrylic of a sweet little kitten nudging: Text me, Yeah?
A model in raw stainless steel of a Fiat 500 entitled Blame the Tools from industrial designer Ron Arad is parked in the Large Weston Room and wins its spurs and stares. London printmaker and illustrator Carolyn Gowdy achieves her first Royal Academy selection with her thoughtful Bird Woman, a hand-coloured etching and aquatint that is part of her Theatre of Women series which addresses the role of women in society.
One of the few directly maritime works is the acrylic by London-based Mohammed Abdullah Ariba Sudden Rain in Mombasa, with a caravel caught in tropical rain. Linda Sutton, featured recently on our site, adds to her ongoing summer exhibition acceptances with the delicate and fanciful Space Angel, Mars and Spiral Galaxy of acrylic and gold leaf on paper.
On a much grander size, Shadows, a new sculpture by Sir Anthony Caro is a confident start to the exhibition. It is a massive construction in rusty-looking steel, fitting (just) into the hexagonal Wohl Central Hall. The work is more suited to a public park than a national gallery, and unsurprisingly it is “not for sale.” It had to be hoisted from the cellar in a ‘secret’ lift – you can see evidence of the trapdoor if you look on the floor to your right as as you enter the room. Born in 1924, Anthony Caro has long been prominent in modern sculpture, which he studied at the Royal Academy Schools.
The formal tribute this year to an Academician who has passed away features Mary Fedden with works including Cows in a Churchyard, described by the curators as “a wonderful union of the English aesthetic and the modern European style.” Mary was a great loss to the arts world, which she departed in 2012 at the age of 96, and her immediately accessible paintings continue to be promoted by many London gallery owners.
The curators faced the task of offseting what one of them called “the public being bombarded by a myriad of different visions, ” and sometimes the arrangers have stacked the works too high. The nightmare was described by Norman Ackroyd when he confessed: “I remember waking up at four in the morning and thinking: Gallery IV – I have got that wrong…” He especially praised Room V: “This room is hung most elegantly by sculptor John Wragg. Everything has its own space.”
One work with plenty of space and that is visible without paying an entrance fee is draped in front of the RA building. It is a bespoke large wall piece made from aluminium bottle caps, printing plates and roofing sheets. For this, the West African artist El Anatsui has been awarded the £25, 000 Charles Wollaston Award. Measuring 15.6m by 25m, the courtyard installation TSIATSIA – searching for connection, hangs from the balustrade of Burlington House. The artist said: “Like a painter who spends his entire career using just one medium, I feel I could spend the rest of my career using only bottle-tops, because there’s an open-ended sense of freedom present in this medium… the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories.”
Staging an exhibition does cost money, though. Lead sponsor for the the summer exhibition for the eighth year running is Insight Investment, which together with Pareto Investment Management, which it acquired in January 2013, had close to £229bn of assets under management as of end-March.