The Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition

I’ve had the privilege of dissolving probably the greatest problem of the annual RA summer show. That being that: human nature, even for one who tries their hardest out of pure dogged fascination, cannot keep our feet from tiring, our eyes from glazing over, or our concentration from lapsing; due to the sheer quantity of art stifling all viewable wall or plinth space available unto the academy. There is only one case worse, October’s Frieze Fair, which is a completely overwhelming and disorientating experience requiring sheer mental strength. Overall, despite there being great work to discover here, the experience is itself disappointing. This is due to the fact that no attempt will be able to reveal the mysteries of the unseen. (One always assumes that in failure to complete a viewing, the most exquisitely mind-blowing, beautiful and radical will be just around the corner). There is nothing worse than rushing the experience of art out of no given choice…

I, by complete charming chance, have been able to preview the exhibition not once, not twice, but three times, in my job as…a waitress, which provided just enough to be able to judge the holistic atmosphere of the exhibition, to note the famous and their iconic styles, the unnoted, and the notably unnote-worthy. And have since made a dedicated longer visit.

There is a couple of artists featured with whom I have formed particular alliance to after hearing them speak in the flesh about their work: Grayson Perry on his slightly queer and very eccentric ceramics; and Humphrey Ocean on his series Peggy’s Birthday, which was exhibited at the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury last September. Six of Peggy’s Birthday made the show, of which one – Geoffrey – has been printed onto postcard.

Grayson Perry’s work seems to be the perfect proportion of creative absurdness. His visually extravagant work could be furniture pieces in the Wallace Collection or British Museum because through tradition eyes, Personal Creation Myth could not be deemed anything other than a pot – it’s well made, decorative and certainly beautiful – the coral pink marbling of the varnished sky particularly. It’s absurd, some might say surreal – though not in the way of the Surrealists – due to it’s subject matter, and means of exploration. (For some reason, a pot will never seem as natural a place for creative expression as a canvas.) Perhaps then the perfect home for a Perry pot would be a rescued country home, out of a programme entitled something like that, where Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Andy Warhol (, or more likely, Michael Craig-Martin) have had their way, sometimes in unison and sometimes not. It is yet unsold! Ocean’s works are characterful portraits of which I only have one slight complaint: the dull skin minorly snuffs the life of these personalities.

I was unimpressed by the repetitive work of Michael Craig-Martin – I expected to feel indebtedthat I missed last year’s summer show – that the work of 2010 Untitled (Real), Untitled (Paradise) and Kids, would be noticeably different from 2008. Personally, I think the man has been holidaying since bulk printing in 2008…He’s been using the same imagery year after year, regardless of the so-called title and supposed intent. Honestly, Untitled or Real. Don’t suggest it has no obvious point when it glows neon 2m letters that very unambiguously spell what they do. There is a difference between an artist choosing to use an unusual, non fine-art medium for creative affect, and an artist who through the way he works, appears unable to create work outside of the niche he is filling – this is when you come to doubt the artist because essentially you see little creative future in their work.

Likewise, a previous favourite of mine, Lisa Milroy, appears to have lost momentum as her years have matured her. Her attempt to broaden out of regimented grids of repeated aerial viewed objects has left work that is dull, and less, not more, imaginative. I can’t bear to look at the increasing quality of cartoon.

I was thoroughly impressed by Self, Vasiliki Gkotsi’s Jenny Savilleish piece and some very buyable pieces in the Small Weston room by Bernard Dunstan – The kitchen and Sitting by the Window, which are stunningly gentle-spirited. One other mention would be of Anselm Kiefer’s ever dramatic but simplistic Einschüsse, which greets you first on entrance to VI from the central hall – art fiend or not, Kiefer’s work is beautifully raw and thought-provoking to investigate.

The show is open until 22nd August, and is one of the events in the international art calendar.


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