Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy
The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is something of an institution in the art world calendar. The show is now in its 248th year, having been held annually since its inception in 1769. In recent years, it has been criticised for promoting art that is reactionary and behind the times. This year, however, under the leadership of sculptor Richard Wilson, the Royal Academy has attempted to inject new life into the show. The results are interesting, but distinctly mixed.
This year’s edition of the Summer Exhibition features work from several artistic duos, such as Jake & Dinos Chapman, Jane & Louise Wilson, and Tim Noble & Sue Webster. Coordinator Richard Wilson hopes that these artistic pairs will shed light on collaborative practices and question the myth of the lonely genius artist. It’s an interesting angle to take and places a refreshing emphasis on processes of making that is often absent from curatorial commentary.
Choosing a theme based on artists’ working practices rather than their approaches means that the works have little or nothing to do with each other. In some ways this relates to part of the Summer Exhibition’s charm; as the world’s largest open submission exhibition, work ranges from the weird to the wonderful, with subject matter concerning the mundane to the divine.
However, despite this multiplicity of media and content, the RA has chosen to display the work in themed rooms, with varying degrees of success. One room collects works relating to maps and the earth, creating an intriguing narrative that examines our multifaceted responses to nature and the land we live on. On the other hand, a room intended to shock and provoke contains nothing more exciting than some beaded vases, some trivial figurines performing sexual acts, and unflattering close-ups of sweaty naked men.
There are some interesting works on display, but not that much that wows. In typical Royal Academy style, the pieces are closely packed on the walls, and the effect is somewhat overwhelming. Nevertheless, most are for sale, with prices starting at a few hundred and ranging to several thousand pounds, and all profits go towards supporting the RA Schools, which is certainly a worthy cause. Overall, this year’s Summer Exhibition makes an admirable attempt to be different and thought-provoking, but it sadly falls a bit flat in places.
The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy from 13th June until 21st August 2016. Buy your tickets here.