Summer Exhibition 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts
This year’s Summer Exhibition is a bit of a joke – in the best possible way. Curated by the inimitable Grayson Perry, the landmark 250th annual show doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the result is surprisingly effective.
In a series of rooms painted in bright hues of yellow and blue, or lined with tin foil for a retro-futuristic look, the densely hung walls compete for viewers’ attention. Humour abounds, starting with Perry’s selection of political jokes, amongst which moments of serious reflection pack more of a punch.
The exhibition’s theme is “art made now”, and this is emphasised by references to contemporary politics, popular culture and materials. In a few cheeky instances, the work of famous Royal Academicians is sidelined in favour of pieces by lesser-known artists. This means there are treats to discover in unexpected places – an Antony Gormley tucked away high on a wall, for example – encouraging visitors to linger over the show and seek out art that they might otherwise overlook.
Conversely, there are also a few striking examples of in-your-face works by established artists, including a large installation in the courtyard by Anish Kapoor incorporating a vast red dot, which acts as both moving monument and jokey reference to the fact that almost all the pieces on view inside are for sale. The central round hall of the showcase also features an enormous suspended textile sculpture by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, which sets the tone for the show: fun, engaging and referential.
Even if you start flagging after seeing the vast number of works in the main spaces (there are around 1,300 pieces of art on display), it’s still worth heading upstairs to the Sackler Galleries, to which the Summer Exhibition has been extended for the first time. Here visitors will find works on paper, many of which are at a much more affordable price point and often engage with interesting themes.
The Summer Exhibition can be a bit of a disappointment, the inevitable diversity of pieces submitted to “the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show” an insurmountable barrier to continuity. This year, however, the diversity of work is celebrated and emphasised, with bright colours, ambitious hanging decisions and Grayson Perry’s judicious eye contributing to a Summer Exhibition that is bold, contemporary and, above all, great fun.
Photos: Matthew Pull
Summer Exhibition 2018 is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 12th June until 19th August 2018. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.