The Summer Exhibition

June is upon us and that means it must be time for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  It has been 7 years since I last visited the RA Summer Show and with all the hype that has been ramping up about it over the past few years I don’t feel that I have missed out at all.  I mean it is always the same, the public offerings crammed together in three small, semi darkened rooms densely hung literally floor to ceiling, so even if you were selected the chances of actually getting to see your work clearly are fairly remote.  The rest of the galleries given over to ‘vanity’ displays of work by the great and august Academicians or some other notable invitee.

It was such a surprise that when I walked in to the rotunda at the start of this years show route that it was light, bright, airy and very colourful.  Work by members of the public hung alongside work by the great and good, everything easily accessible and visible.  Not only that, but photographs were being positively encouraged!  The guest co-ordinator this year is Micheal Craig-Martin RA and what a great job he has done!  How refreshing it is to see a large exhibition hung so well, each room having its own narrative, with individual and groups of works creating sub-conversations between themselves.  And where else can you see work costing £50 hung in the same exhibition as work costing £150,000!  I was impressed and almost “wowed” by this show.

Here are some of my personal favourites (and a couple which aren’t!)…

chantal joffe megan in spotted silk blouseMegan in a spotted silk blouse by Chantal Joffe

I love Joffe’s work and it was such a delight to see this piece in the exhibition.

cornelia parker

Cornelia Parker – Stolen Thunder III

The inventive and supremely talented Ms Parker pokes fun at the idea of editioned prints.  This work was sold for £850 as an original, but limited edition prints numbering 100 in total were also available at £480 each. Kerchingggg!

                                      lisa milroy 2  lisa milroy red dress 1

Two ends of a piece by Lisa Milroy, called One-to-One it is acrylic paint on hand sewn fabric with wood, clay, hand painted gloves, coat hanger and a nail.  It is odd, quirky and I really like it.  If it sells for the £8,000 asking price my faith will have been restored that some people have more money than sense and there is definitely hope for me yet!

lisa milroy black dress

This piece is also by Lisa Milroy, called Black Dress it is an oil painting on canvas, the roses on the dress are the same as those on her other piece (above).  I love this painting, it is fabulous and a bargain at £12,000.


The small budgie picture is actually hand embroidery.  It is simply stunning, a little too high up to get a better picture, I have no idea who embroidered it, but it is incredible and whoever made it has exceptional skill.

william kentridge

Remembering the Treason Trail by William Kentridge

The whole of the Small Weston Room is given over to a series of works by William Kentridge called The Treason Trail.  Trees are a feature in Kentridge’s work and this image is a hand printed lithograph of aluminium plates on cotton and refers to the trial of Nelson Mandela who was represented at his trial by Kentridge’s father – Sir Sydney Kentridge.  It is a stunning and visually powerful work made all the more so by its subject matter.

gallery view

View through one of the gallery rooms

Now we come to some of the more “doubtful”(note the use of the RA’s own word for rubbish pictures) pieces that made it into the show…

grey triangle

Triangle Painting by Alan Charlton

This is one of those pieces obviously selected to court controversy.  It is an acrylic painting on a triangular support.  the asking price is £60,000.  Charlton has been painting in a single colour since the 1970’s and describes his own work thus “I want my paintings to be: abstract, direct, urban, basic, modest, pure, simple, silent, honest, absolute.” – Alan Charlton.  His gallery (Annely Juda of London) says about the artist and his work “Far from being monotone and unexciting Charlton’s works concentrate on physicality, uniformity and method and they evoke a profound sense of the painting as a spatial entity. Charlton originally chose grey because of its ordinary quality but he rapidly recognised that the colour held special characteristics. Consequently the paintings are far more expressive than anticipated. Immaculate surfaces are interrupted by form and rhythm is generated by broken repetition. Charlton has been an inspiration for many contemporary artists and this show is testimony to his continually honest and enduring vision and integrity.”   I’ve got an Honours Degree in Fine Art and even I recognise b*****ks when I see it!

Humphrey ocean RA Sea

“Sea” by Humphrey Ocean

This is one of three entries by Humphrey Ocean RA and is listed in the catalogue as being composed of oil, wood and beads.  It will cost you £22,000 and was suggested for the Charles Wollaston Award; an award of £25,000 to the work deemed by a panel of judges to be the “most distinguished work in the exhibition.”  I like it and loathe it in equal measure, although I think there is obviously some kind of irony going on as Ocean is a Professor of Perspective at the RA.  (I assume this is perspective as in viewpoint in relation to drawing and not as in a mindset).  My companion at the exhibition made the comment “are they having a laugh?”

stairs zobop

Zobop by Jim Lambie

this year to zing the RA up a bit, the main staircase has been covered in lines of sticky coloured tape allegedly following the exact contours of the staircase to create a piece of Op Art which reveals the “idiosyncracies of the architecture”.  This piece has recreated in other spaces previously to its appearance at the RA, notably at the Hirschorn Museum in Washington DC.  It is cheerful and wacky, but I can’t help feeling a sort of deja vu, as to me it is very similar to the work of the French abstract artist Daniel Buren who has been working with coloured stripes to investigate the architectural space since 1965 – interestingly Lambie was born in 1964.


The Dappled Light of the Sun by Conrad Shawcross

Bizarre cloud/tree forms fill the courtyard outside the Academy.  It’s a bit War of the Worlds-y for me.  Still, it does make for nice shadows forms on the ground.

Which brings me finally to the oddest piece on display –

celice clancy gebler davies

Celice with my own hair by Clancy Gebler-Davies

The most bizarre piece of work it is a real “hair shirt” made from the artists own hair felted together and then cut and stitched into this traditional  undergarment.  (The traditional  Celice was made from sack cloth or coarse animal hair and was designed to be uncomfortable, used in some religious traditions to induce discomfiture or pain as a sign of atonement and repentance.)  I think it is a very clever piece which plays with the notion of the hair shirt.  It is well made, but it is just a bit too close to being “not right” for my liking.

Overall I enjoyed the show and would definitely go again next year if this is the format for display – so much better than before.

The 247th Royal Academy of Arts Summer exhibition is on until 16th August 2015 at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London.


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
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2 Responses to The Summer Exhibition

  1. Cedric de la Nougerede says:

    Thanks for a super review.”They’re having a laugh” is certainly the comment which comes to mind for a lot of people. I can hear Bernard Miles saying it in a broad accent. I felt Andy Finlay’s “From Vauxhall Bridge” was a clever laugh.
    I’ve only looked at the exhibition on line but you have made it very real. Thanks.

    • I am glad you enjoyed it. The exhibition itself is well worth seeing this year as there are so many excellent works in it, and the more ‘doubtful’ pieces only really enhance the rest of it. I think what really constantly surprises me is how many well known ‘Names’ churn out utter garbage and get lauded for it. It is a shame when there are so many talented and imaginative people out there that the dross often seems to rise to the fore. Gill

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