Royal Academy Launches Their Great British Salon Of Contemporary Art

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014

With summer well and truly here, the Royal Academy of Arts’ annual Summer Exhibition launches the great British salon, with a host of private and members views. The exhibition opens to the public on Monday 9 June but Artlyst has had a sneak preview of what is on offer this year. This is the world’s largest open submission exhibition providing a unique platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their works comprising a range of media from painting to printmaking, photography, sculpture, architecture and film.   Out of 12,000 submissions, the show was whittled down to just over 1,200.  The majority of the works are for sale and the proceeds go toward raising funds to finance the current students of the Royal Academy Schools, who pay no fees for the duration of their studies.  There is a rotating hanging committee selected from the Royal Academicians and this year it comprises Hughie O’Donoghue (coordinator), Eileen Cooper, Gus Cummins, John Maine, Chris Orr, Cornelia Parker, Eric Parry and Emma Stibbon.

 In the past the exhibition has been accused of being staid and out of touch with developments in contemporary art.  However, in recent years there has been an enormous effort to rectify this attitude.  It has been helped this year in being able to elect a record number of new Members.  The new Academicians include Thomas Heatherwick, Tim Shaw, Conrad Shawcross, Yinka Shonibare, Bob and Roberta Smith, Neil Jeffries, Chantal Joffe, Wolfgan Tillmans and Rebecca Warren amongst others.  This year’s show celebrates and draws attention to their work by exhibiting their works together in the Wohl Central Gallery and in Gallery IX towards the end of the exhibition.   As a result, the first piece you see is the striking sculpture Cake Man by Yinka Shonibare which depicts a lifesize figure dressed in African print clothes with a huge pile of cakes precariously balanced on his back which is about bankers greed and how the top 1% literally take all the cake.  In the same room there are similarly arresting pieces by Conrad Shawcross, Bob and Roberta Smith and Thomas Heatherwick.  All pointing towards a new and relevant Royal Academy.

Hughie O’Donoghue has given each of his fellow committee members a room or two to curate. His own first room consists of large paintings with a deliberate primary feel concentrating on colour, form and material by such established artists as Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz and Sean Scully set against a host of recently deceased Academicians such as Maurice Cockrill, Alan Davie and John Bellany.  I was delighted to see that the Sean Scully has been shortlisted for the Royal Academy’s Charles Wollaston Award.  His second room contains a memorial to Sir Anthony Caro with his 1989 welded bronze piece entitled Elephant Palace, as well as large colourful abstracts by Frank Bowling and the simplie white on white relief canvasses by Will Maclean.

Most of his fellow committee members tend to follow the usual Royal Academy salon style hangings.  The print room, hung by Prof Chris Orr and Emma Stibbon, offers the chance to buy big name artists at reasonable prices.  There are definitive examples by Michael Craig Martin, Tracey Emin, Joe Tilson and Jim Dine.  I particularly liked Family Portrait by Mark Whithorn with his painting over an old family portrait photograph and was pleased to see that it has won the British Institution Award as well as video piece The Virtual Face by Bernadette Comac.

As Keeper of prints at the Royal Academy, Eileen Cooper in her curated room has chosen to celebrate emerging artists and has one whole wall dedicated to portraits of varying standards.  One interesting work is Joy Pitts use of woven garment labels.  The small Weston Room has the ubiquitous heavily packed small works of varying styles from the photorealist to the heavy impasto abstacts and tucked away were two ink and watercolours by Quentin Blake entitled Young and Old.

As you wander through the exhibition spaces, it is a very familiar Summer Exhibition experience.  There is the sculpture room hung by John Maine and the chaotic architecture room and another densely hung room selected by Gus Cummins where picking out individual works becomes increasingly difficult.  It is not until the end of the exhibition that there is anything new and exciting.  The Yellow Nude No8 and Companion painting by Gary Hume is nicely framed by the arched doorways. Newcomer Jonathan Hall’s painting is also notable.   The new Academicians are allowed their space to shine in Room IX.  Here you will find Greifbar I by Woolfgan Tillmans a large inkjet print and a stitched fabric onto steel figurative piece by Tim Shaw.   The James Turrell light piece Sensing Thought is in its own space and allows for a relaxing, calm, hypnotic offering after the chaos of the show.

However, it is Cornelia Parker’s black and white room that truly stands out. .  She invited Academicians Michael Craig Martin, Tacita Dean, Richard Deacon amongst others to exhibit works as well as other high-profile artists such as Martin Creed, Mark Wallinger, Ryan Gander, Laure Provost, David Shrigley and Mona Hatoum.  Their works are set against a wall of Richard Woods’ trompe l’oeuil painted wood and proves that to be selected to exhibit at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition you are showing your work alongside the best in British contemporary art.

Words/Photo Sara Faith © Artlyst 2014