Tag Archives: Summer Exhibition

Double Whammy at the Royal Academy

7 Oct

The Royal Academy is back in Burlington Gardens and to re-launch the space they are hosting RA Now, an exhibition and auction that offers the opportunity to view a selection of works by current Royal Academicians (there are 80) and Honorary Academicians.  Be prepared, as the exhibition includes work by 121 artists!  It has been co-ordinated by Allen Jones and feels like the Academicians’ version of the Summer Exhibition.  By nature a broad range of media and artistic disciplines are encompassed here and not all of the art is good – the show doesn’t exactly enthuse and excite visitors.  The accompanying catalogue is designed to offer an overview into today’s Royal Academy rather than a survey of the exhibition and it is a lovely book.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

Although we are used to seeing their works individually, this is the first time that the current membership has exhibited exclusively together.  All the pieces have been donated and funds raised from the works auctioned on 9th October will contribute to the Royal Academy’s long- term plans for this site – a veritable price-war for some of the biggest names in the art world today.  Works not auctioned at this time will be available to buy during the course of the exhibition.

I think the next exhibition here in December will afford us more opportunity to see exactly what they are going to do with the space.  Due to this being a selling exhibition and auction, the curation isn’t very intelligent but it isn’t intended to be.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

The RA seem to be setting up this venue as a cultural hub; Pace have opened a gallery downstairs plus there is a new RA shop, the 42° RAW café and The Burlington Social Club – an incredible, huge scaffold construction in the central room of the Burlington Gardens’ space.  Sadly, the Club wasn’t open for us to try at the preview but it looks like a fairly special pop-up restaurant.  Seats are placed around the main rectangular area which is where I’m reliably informed the magic happens – chefs and mixologists brush arms, vying for space in the laboratory.  I think I may have to pop in to sample a cocktail.  The Burlington Gardens’ space is stunning and I, for one, am pleased to see it reopened.

The Burlington Social Club. Own photograph.

Just round the corner in the main Royal Academy is Bronze, the show that everyone is going mad for, the current must-see.

There are no surprises with this exhibition which is a delight.  It does exactly what it says on the tin – presenting around 150 bronze works from across the world that span over 5,000 years, many of which have never been seen before in the UK, certainly not in public.  The achievement of some of the loans is magnificent.  It is straightforward, a blockbuster show both in terms of scale and ambition.

Adriaen de Vries, Vulcan’s Forge, 1611.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Bronze is arranged thematically with rooms focusing on the human figure, animals, objects, reliefs, gods, and so on, including works by Ghiberti, Donatello, Rodin, Picasso, Moore and Jasper Johns.  Everyone is here!  Chronologically, the show is intentionally messy but it is best to forget about this and enjoy the wonderful objects that continue to delight us as we stroll slowly from gallery to gallery.  In fact, this arrangement seeks to show how the medium has not changed too much over the years and the curators would argue that the juxtapositions allow this point to be clearly illustrated.  Works from thousands of years ago look as if they may have been made only yesterday. – such is the power of this medium.  The individual objects are magnificent and the skill is awe-inspiring.

Trundholm Sun Chariot, Fourteenth century BCE.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Intelligently, the show also seeks to teach us about bronze – an alloy consisting mainly of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc and lead.  One room is given over to explaining the complex processes behind bronze looking at various casting techniques and giving step-by-step explanations.

Chimera of Arezzo, Etruscan, c. 400 BCE.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There is, however, a large but.  Painting is designed to be hung on a wall and stared at from the front.  Sculpture is three-dimensional and, for this reason, it should be circumnavigated and lit from all angles.  The majority of works here are pushed back against the wall, inaccessible and lost.  The entire method of display makes me uneasy.  Even when the works are accessible, you still can’t see them.  There is a fabulous Cellini in room one of Perseus and Medusa.  When you are behind the work, the lights blind you.  Perseus’ bum hasn’t been lit at all, which is a real disappointment.

Cellini, Perseus and Medusa. Image via www.pbase.com

I also have an objection to the stark white cases and statement walls used throughout.  The lighting is too bright and not well enough directed and the white walls only make it worse.  There is no daylight allowed through, this is a dark exhibition that has been floodlit looking like a bad light extravaganza.  The exhibition isn’t actually cluttered but many of the objects here need at least twice the space to be studied properly.  There are far too many things to take in and enjoy.  I’d recommend buying the excellent catalogue to appreciate fully some of the wonders or to visit several times in small bursts.  It is impossible to walk around this show in one hit and attempt to appreciate everything on display.

Donatello, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1455-60.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

When even slightly busy, the space is really quite claustrophobic.   I found it quite exhausting to walk round and needed to sit down with a glass of water after my visit.  Bronze certainly seems to be dividing opinion and I’m sure many of you will think I’m mad.  Although I’m not a fan of the layout, it is still an unmissable show that celebrates the medium.  The idea of focusing a show around medium does mean that just about anything can be put together without rhyme or reason.  But, what the hell, some of the sculptures are so incredible that it’s impossible not to be blown away.

It was time to head to the Residence of the Ambassador of Sweden for some rather different sculpture in HIT

RA Now is at 6 Burlington Gardens until 11th November 2012 and Bronze is in the Main Galleries at Burlington House until 9th December 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Better than Usual: The Mixed Bag of the Summer Exhibition

28 Jun

I am one of the first to criticise the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and maybe this year I enjoyed it more than usual because I entered the gallery with low expectations.  The Summer Exhibition is now in its 244th year and aims to cram in a mix of works by emerging and established artists.  This year the RA received over 11,000 entries that have been coordinated by Royal Academician, Tess Jaray.  There are all the usual suspects including Michael Craig-Martin, Michael Landy, Tracey Emin and Anselm Kiefer.  But, this year, the big names seem to have been better integrated with up-and-coming artists, in a way more in keeping with the RA’s philosophy.

Endless Walls at the Summer Exhibition.  Own photograph.

There can be no doubt that the exhibition has changed drastically since its inception.  The thing about the Summer Exhibition is that it’s important to remember that there is no overriding theme or connection between the works.  Fundamentally, this is a show of thousands upon thousands of unrelated pieces.  It is a selling show and people crowd the galleries like pictures crowd the walls.

Visitors to this year’s Summer Exhibition. Own photograph.

The first room that one enters has been painted in bright red, recalling Matisse’s The Red Studio.  After this though the RA have fallen back upon the old faithful wall colour of grey.  Now I’ve not mentioned wall colour in a while but, for such a popular exhibition that isn’t meant to appeal to art purists, I find this an odd choice.  After the impressive vibrancy of the first room we are met with one bland dreary wall after another.  While grey may be a neutral colour that can cause no offence it doesn’t do very much else.

Jaray has curated the largest gallery in a different way to usual and arranged the works in a wave design that rises and falls.  She has moved many of the smaller pieces, traditionally seen in the smaller rooms, to this gallery shifting the focus of the show and showing that the largest is not always the most impactful.  Although this undulating pattern makes it relatively hard to process the works individually, it is far more aesthetically pleasing and it is much better to enjoy this space as a visitor.  Jaray has made use of the works here to create more than just a hang – this is an installation.  This room also shows off the diversity of the Summer Exhibition – whether this is a good or bad thing comes down to personal taste.

Jaray’s wave. Own photograph.

However, rooms seven and eight really deteriorate with yet more grey walls, grey plinths and overcrowded poor sculpture.

Sculpture Galleries. Own photograph.

One room is showing a video work by Jayne Parker, proving that the exhibition is interacting with contemporary media but it is wrong to have this space dedicated to just one work by one artist.  It would be more appropriate if different pieces were on a loop, giving other artists more of a chance.

The Summer Exhibition does struggle to define itself.  It is still derided by the art world but it doesn’t actually make itself available as a public selling exhibition because you have to pay to go in. Whilst I understand charging for the catalogue, surely this should be the one time of year when entry to a Royal Academy exhibition is free of charge.  And so, the show sits in a difficult position and although it’s making progress, it will always be nigh on impossible to climb out of the rut it’s in.

The courtyard transformed.

As ever, the works all blur into one and I came out not really remembering too much of what we’d seen.  It’s a great game though to wander round with the list of works and see how well you know your artists and guess the prices.  There are some fairly good works this year.  There are some fairly bad ones too but this is the best Summer Exhibition that I’ve seen in a while.  I wonder what they’ll do next year…

The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy until 12th August 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Snap – Hungary’s genius, Eyewitness at the RA

18 Jul

Robert Capa famously said ‘It’s not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian’.  Even though most of Hungary’s famous photographers decided to leave their home country and make their names in Germany, France and the US, having visited this exhibition, I see his point.

Centring around five major photographers – Robert Capa,  Brassaï, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi -this exhibition presents a chronological journey of Hungary’s conflicted history (all Jewish-born these men were forced to change their names due to the frequent anti-Semitism they encountered), looking at the lives of these artists and revealing their achievements and genius.  With around 200 photographs, by over 50 photographers, ranging in date from 1914-1989, I think everyone was ready to expect a mess but the Royal Academy has produced a beautiful show with striking, provocative images arranged in a coherent and concise manner.

Robert Capa, Death of a Loyalist Soldier, 1936.  Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk.

In many ways, these five photographers gained recognition as a result of leaving Hungary.  Yet, their technique and style was much influenced by the photographic traditions of their homeland.  It was in Budapest, for example, that some of the first photography stories were printed in the 1920s.  Many others, such as Károly Escher, Rudolf Balogh and Jószef Pécsi, did remain in Hungary and the exhibition includes a good spectrum of such work.

László Fejes, Wedding, Budapest, 1965. Image via www.independent.co.uk.

I think this exhibition was a big gamble.  Although Hungarian photography is getting more popular, I wouldn’t have thought it is popular enough for an RA summer show.  Maybe they have enough people already coming through the doors that they’re happy to take the risk or maybe they just felt these amazing artists deserved some more attention.  Whichever you believe, their gamble has paid off – when I was there, it was packed.

As you know, I’m normally the first to criticise grey walls but here they work.  The black and white photographs have a serene and calming quality.  There’s no problem with reflections.  The exhibition is uniform and well-conceived.  My one small niggle was that queues built up while people stuck in the dead-end sections of the exhibition were looking into the cabinets.  Oh, one other thing…  The wall labels now include the catalogue numbers which I thought slightly weird.  If you see people walking around catalogue in hand, this is why.

The personalities of the photographers are evident in their works.  Kertész, for example, was shy and never felt fully comfortable outside Hungary, while Brassaï was a confident socialite who had spent four years working in Berlin before moving to Paris in 1924.  His new home became the focus of his work and the centre of his life.  Fascinated by the cultures and sub-cultures of the city, his works delve into Paris at night and the restless wandering souls who occupied the city.   Bijou of Montparnasse stares out at the viewer. Expensively attired and heavily made-up, her face reveals the tire and strain of years of work.

Brassaï, Bijou of Montparnasse, 1932.  Image via http://thingsbecomethings.blogspot.com.

Munkácsi’s works inspired many American fashion photographers, including Herb Ritts.  Perhaps the most accomplished photojournalist here, he began working in the medium aged only 18.

His work Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika is carefree and inspiring, the perfect social commentary of a young family playing on the beach.   Their raw nakedness against the white foam is poignant and striking.  The sharpness of the image, created by use of a high shutter speed, results in an image filled with dynamism and vitality.  Henri Cartier Bresson said “it is only that one photograph which influenced me.”

Martin Munkácsi, Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika, c. 1930.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

The exhibition also includes Munkácsi’s photograph of the Nazi superstar Leni Riefenstahl (I won’t go into Riefenstahl’s life story and her claims for that is not what is relevant here).  Wearing hotpants and a vest, her dark hair, chiseled features and smooth skin appear more pronounced by the snow.  This photo appeared on the front cover of Time in 1936 to mark the Fourth Winter Olympics that Hitler had inaugurated earlier that month.  Munkácsi was fascinated by bodies in movement; innovative for his time, he was making history with every shot he captured.

Martin Munkácsi, Leni Riefenstahl, 1931.  Image www.artvalue.com.

I studied Kertész at school and his works still have a special resonance for me.  With little formal training, Kertész began taking photographs of rural scenes and everyday moments in Budapest.  He was then known for his trench photography while he served from 1914-15.  A shy character, his work expresses an overriding interest in the daily routines of people.

Strict regulations were imposed on Hungarian photography in the latter half of the 20th century.  No Hungarian photographs of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 were allowed to be published and photography began to lose some of its earlier vigour as the political climate trampled freedom of artistic expression once again.  Experimentation continued on the fringes and during the 1980s the art form began to re-emerge and flourish.  The Hungarian contribution to photography is still felt today and, as this exhibition shows, many modern-day artists and photo-journalists alike are indebted to these figures.

Károly Escher, Bank Manager at the Baths, 1938.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

These photographs present the glamour, truth and terrifying realities of the time.  The strength of this material, and the incredible range of photographic media here, has influenced generations of photographers and much of what we see in newspapers, magazines and art galleries can be referenced to these works.

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century is in the Sackler Wing at the Royal Academy until 2nd October 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Making a Mark – Richard Long: Human Nature and Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison

12 Jun

Friday evening marked my second visit to Haunch of Venison’s Richard Long exhibition.  The two visits could not have been more different.  A couple of weeks ago, when I first popped in, the gallery was a space of peaceful tranquillity with only a few people admiring the works.  Last Friday, the gallery was taken over for The Courtauld Summer Party with hundreds of Courtauld alumni buzzing around the rooms.  The exhibition was almost forgotten as the hub swelled and gossip escalated.  Mine were not the only heels in the gallery and the sweeping staircase that leads to the first floor acted as a ‘would-be’ red carpet for glamorous alumni.

Haunch of Venison staircase with Giuseppe Penone, Ripetere il bosco – frammento 28, 2007.  Own photograph.

In spite of the fun that overwhelmed Haunch that evening, this exhibition is certainly not one to be missed.

Long is the walking artist, a pioneer both in Land and Conceptual art; his works are characterised by simplicity, precision and economy, exploring complex ideas about time and space, movement, natural forces and human experience.  The exhibition features works in a variety of media that have arisen from, or been inspired by, his walks.  Whether huge stone sculptures or smaller photographs, the works all share this common theme, focusing on the effects of his recent travels.

Richard Long, Stone Print Spiral, 2011.  Own photograph.

Although the show presents new works, there is no doubt that Long is following his well-trodden path using a tried and tested motif that he first happened upon in his teens (when he photographed the tracks created by a rolling snowball and poured plaster into the sunken holes and crevices that remained) and has developed over the years.

Long’s work is created outside the traditional artist’s studio.  His studio is the landscape and his tools are nature’s creations.  These works, often in the form of huge sculptures, appeal to our sensual natures while his photographs and text-based works allow our imaginations to do the work.  These two practices come together most successfully in the largest room at Haunch where, in North South, the white Portland stone circle, divided by an upright line of Cornish Delabole slate, is surrounded by text works.  Compass points in North South evoke the world outside the gallery – although Long has brought nature inside, it is impossible to confine his natural ideas.

Richard Long, North South, 2011, and other works.  Own photograph.

The text works range from small framed pieces to word-installations that take over entire walls.

Richard Long, Fibonacci Walk, Somerset, 2009.  Own photograph.

As Long introduces nature’s materials into the galleries, imposing himself on the works, they become objects of contemplation rather than mere evocations of his journeys.  With society’s continuous destruction of our natural landscape, Long’s work is still as powerful as it ever was.  His relationship with our environment strikes a resounding chord.   Long studied at St Martins under Anthony Caro alongside some of our greatest modern artists and was encouraged to pursue whatever art form he wished.  His own interpretation of painting is seen in one work, from which the exhibition takes its title, where he has thrown watery clay and pigment at the wall, using his hands, rather than man-made tools, to create shapes.  The pigment in this work is an unusual inclusion for Long but aims to show the often necessary and harmonious marriage of man and nature.  Long’s work is very much about himself, the way he interacts with natural forms.

Richard Long with Human Nature, 2011.  Image via www.thisislondon.co.uk

Long’s work is about journeys and, as we walk around the exhibition, we make our own journey.  You may remember that I wrote about the Fabien Seiz exhibition (at the Josh Lilley Gallery) a few weeks ago where visitors’ footprints mark the bitumen on the gallery floor.  Here again, although less explicitly, we can think about our own journeys, conscious of the marks we leave behind all day whilst walking along the streets, running for the tube or ambling through London’s parks.

Also using the natural landscape as its focus, the concurrent exhibition at Haunch shows the works of Giuseppe Penone.  Take care not to confuse the two artists as a number of the larger upstairs galleries are filled with Penone’s work, not Long’s!  The press release at the reception desk has a helpful map to guide you through – sense the irony that a map is helpful to understand the journeys taken by these two artists.  Working with natural elements, Penone’s work seeks to reveal realities through mark-making, studying the interaction between
man and his environment, showing nature’s resilience in spite of our frequent interventions.

Giuseppe Penone in the mezzanine gallery.  Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.    

Haunch is not the only place where Long is currently exhibited – as well as being included in major collections across the world, he also has a work in the Summer Exhibition, just a short walk down Burlington Arcade.  The Summer Exhibition work, which I’m fairly sure also appears downstairs at Haunch, Untitled (2010), is made using white china clay on black card showing a journey of hands.  Maybe this is a designed as a taster to lure people up to Haunch – you see one, you love it and you want to see more.

Richard Long, Untitled (2010).  Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.    

Or if you’re heading abroad there are two further Long shows in Berlin and New York.

Richard Long: Berlin Circle, installation view.  Until 31st July 2011 at the Haumburger Bahnhof Museum für GegenwartImage via www.therichardlongnewsletter.org.

Long has quite a busy exhibition schedule at the moment and maybe this explains why the Haunch show was, sadly, a tad smaller than I expected.  Although he may not have succumbed to the celebrity that compels some artists, Richard Long is undoubtedly one of the most important talents to have emerged since the 1960s.

Richard Long: Human Nature is at Haunch of Venison until 20th August 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.

A Salon for Summer: the RA’s Summer Exhibition

5 Jun

It’s that crazy time of year again – the summer season has begun.

Since the Royal Academy’s Foundation in 1768, the Summer Exhibition has been an annual fixture.  Historically, the exhibition was an opportunity for Royal Academicians to showcase their work but, today, it is renowned as the show where amateurs stand proudly alongside the gods of the modern-day art world.  It is part of the social calendar with all the glossies covering the grand party that marks the opening.  It is the show that is hated by the art world (many don’t even bother to visit) but it is packed every day until August.  You couldn’t hold this exhibition without the expected criticism.  Now, I won’t pretend that I’m not a Summer Exhibition critic but I did enjoy this year’s more than most.

Visitors at The Summer Exhibition.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’d been eagerly anticipating the exhibition since Jeff Koons’ sculpture was installed in the courtyard a few weeks ago.  Although quite abstract, the work stems from a line drawing of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh – one of my all-time favourite children’s’ books.  Koons explores the joyous playfulness of child-like marks in a colouring book.

Jeff Koons, Colouring Book.  Own photograph.

Royal Academicians Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig-Martin (both of whom have wonderful works on display) have played major roles in this year’s curation.  Key to the changes introduced this year is that there is no theme.  I applaud their decision to accept the random nature of the exhibition and to go with it.

Unusually this year, visitors enter the exhibition through the central octagon filled with large-scale photographic works and Martin Creed’s Work No. 998 (familiar from his exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, last year) where he has stacked chairs one on top of the other.  Although the chairs are different from each other they appear the same through the calming influence of rhythm, sequence and harmony.

Martin Creed, Work No. 998.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

 The selling point of the show has been the ‘Salon Hang’ in the RA’s grandest space.  Room III is certainly a success but, ironically, what I think works best is that it isn’t quite as crammed as in previous years.  The Royal Academy was originally housed at what is now The Courtauld Gallery and an 18th century salon hang was a dense floor-to-ceiling collective of works where the prime positions were ‘on the line’, a moulding placed at eye level.  This was excellently re-created in the ambitious exhibition, Art On The Line, in 2002.

Art On The Line, The Courtauld Gallery, 2002, curated by Professor David Solkin.  Image www.courtauld.ac.uk

Although not necessarily as busy as these hangs once were, Le Brun has followed traditional ideals with pieces radiating out from the large-scale works in the centre of each long wall.  He wanted visitors to find their own way through the gallery rather than being controlled by curatorial ideas.  He succeeds.  The strong grey wall colour suits the gravitas of many of the pieces on display.

Room III.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

For me, in this room and across the whole exhibition, Keith Tyson’s Deep Impact has to take first prize.  This mixed media on aluminium is a burning fire of molten fury, the swirling colours conjuring passion, turmoil and power, grabbing viewers’ attention as they amble through the thousands of works on display.

Keith Tyson with his work, Deep Impact.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

It is very hard to discuss this exhibition without pinpointing particular works.  As ever, at the Summer Exhibition, the best works stand out and the others merge into a panoply of dross.  I clacked around (the RA floors have some of the best heel acoustics in London) clutching my champagne, list of works and pen, noting interesting pieces.  But, flicking back, I now see I circled more than I expected so I will try to be brief.

Anselm Kiefer’s Aurora haunts the Large Weston Room.  This room, usually subdivided into sections on one side, has been left open and this is very successful.  There are still loads of works but, finally, there is the space to see them.

The Lecture Room, curated by Craig-Martin with his own specially invited artists, gathers together all the famous names of art with Allen Jones, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin himself, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville, Anish Kapoor, Christopher Le Brun, Antony Gormley, Richard Long… I could go on!  The works are all signature pieces from the artists as Craig-Martin wished the works to reveal ‘the true, distinct, and singular voice of an individual artist’.

Allen Jones, Think Pink.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There are the usual ‘pretty’ works (Ice-Hiss by Vanessa Cuthbert and Mr Muscle by Tor Hildyard) and, yes, there is a lot of rubbish (including some disappointing pieces from big names) and the last room is particularly weak.  But, if you search thoroughly, there are some wonderful things: David Nash’s Funnel, an amazing severed trunk that we can peer through, and Dae Kwon’s 250510R, that has won the Jack Goldhill award, both stood out for me.

Dae Kwon, 250510R.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Dog In a Bin by Simon Brundret is a kinetic sculpture made from silicone, rubber, bin and a motor, showing a dog devouring rubbish.  There is no doubt that this has the novelty factor but it left me with a smile.  I dare you not to look at it and grin.

Simon Brundret, Dog In A Bin.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

The RA receives no public money and the Summer Exhibition generates much revenue for the gallery.  Sales from the Summer Show also contribute to funding the RA schools (the only non-fee paying UK art school) which produce some of our greatest artists.

No-one is pretending that the Summer Exhibition is a collection of the best art in the UK today – accept it for what it is and enjoy it for all those reasons.  It is a gathering both of art and people, a mish-mash and an essential fixture in our summer calendar that provides an opportunity to see what’s going on in all echelons of the art world.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy opens on 7th June until 15th August 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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