So we make do with day trips from time to time, and this week we decided we'd go to the 2012 Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. We didn't go at all last year (can't remember why not), but we did in 2010 and I did a big post about it which you can read here. Interestingly, that post is the second highest read of all my blog posts with 2,339 views (the highest is the one on How to Make Blackberry Vodka which is still the first result you get back on Google when you enter the title as search terms - it's been viewed almost 10,000 times!)
As it was such a popular post - and I'd received emails from one or two of the exhibiting artists about it (nice emails, I hasten to add!) - I knew I'd have to do another one this time, again with as many photos as I could cram in. The problem, of course, with that is that I'm breaking all kinds of copyright laws in a very major way which does make me feel somewhat uneasy but, on the other hand, I'm giving the artists free publicity. And it naturally goes without saying that if anyone objects or complains, then I'll happily take the photo down - I don't want to ruffle any feathers at all or, come to that, get arrested. So that's my disclaimer out of the way.
Of course, the Royal Academy doesn't actually allow you to take photos because, naturally, they want punters to either buy the painting/print/artwork or the postcards (which I did) or the catalogue, which means I have to employ ninja stealth tactics to get these pictures by using my iPhone which is more discreet than using my 'proper' camera. The downside to this is that, unfortunately, quite a few of my pictures this year are a bit more blurred and/or out of focus than I would have liked.
The reason for this is that we didn't go on Buyers' Day this year, which is both a good and bad thing. It was a bad thing because I quite like the snobbery value of being able to mix with the wealthy and the odd famous (i.e., the Marquis of Bath - he always goes on Buyers' Day and he is most definitely odd and famous) and not to have paid to get in (they send you a free ticket). It was also a bad thing because it means you don't get first dibs on a piece you might fancy buying (but as I had no intention of buying this year, that wasn't a concern). It was also, weirdly, both a good and bad thing in that there were far less visitors on a 'normal' day compared to Buyers' Day, when the place is rammed to the rafters and the place gets as hot as a sauna, and you can't see anything properly because you can't get close enough, so less people = a good thing, a very good thing indeed but less people = less bodies to hide behind when taking the illicit photographs. When I could hide behind people I had the time to be able to focus the phone camera properly and hold it still enough to take some semi-decent pictures; this time there was much less opportunity, so it had to be quick 'n' dirty (as they say, apparently). So that's my disclaimer for the less-than-stellar-quality photos out of the way.
Let's begin, shall we?
We went up on Tuesday (12 June) and decided we would drive. We've worked out it costs a bit more to drive and park than it does to go by train, but the convenience and the not having to rely on the vagaries of public transport far outweigh the cost. Not to mention that my feet are playing me up summink dreadful these days and I actually can't walk terribly far without discomfort (yes, this has put the mockers on the running - I really ought to shuffle them along to a doctor....) and just the thought of walking around the RA, then Soho, then to Waterloo, then home from the station was enough to make me weep.
We took the Smart Car, as it's ideal for driving around a busy city and went up the A3 and over Putney Bridge, heading towards a car park on Poland Street in Soho. The journey up had been quite good so far, but then we went into a tunnel that took us under Hyde Park Corner and became stationary for what felt like ages but was probably only about 10 minutes. I described the tunnel to TLH as being one of those places in which you wouldn't want to find yourself a couple of weeks after the zombie apocalypse had arrived - you just know it would end badly:
We got through the tunnel unscathed and with our brains uneaten though, so that was alright.
As we went along Park Lane, I noticed the rather fabulous green wall growing up one side of The Athenaeum Hotel:
Driving through the extremely narrow lanes in Soho was, indeed, made much easier by being in such a teeny, tiny car but because everyone else was seemingly driving large white delivery vans we still ended up getting stuck in a tailback down one particularly narrow street for a very long time. It got very dull very quickly. Eventually, though, progress was made and we found the car park we wanted.
We parked and while I was waiting for TLH to sort himself out, I noticed these rather fantastic large vintage advertisements that were at the entrance to the car park. I'm thinking they're probably from the 1960s judging by the typeface:
It was around 12.15pm by now and time for lunch. I'd had half a mind to try and find a Tapas bar (I've never had it and am keen to try some) but the car park was literally over the other side of the road from Bodean's we decided to go there instead. This picture isn't one of mine but could well have been taken from the entrance of the car park - we were, indeed, that close to it so it seemed daft to go elsewhere:
Bodean's is a barbecue smokehouse place that does really good pulled pork and ribs, that kind of thing. Service can be very quick too - I think we were eating within 3 minutes of sitting down:
We had a fair bit of time to kill before going to the Royal Academy - we'd got tickets for a 2.30pm timed entry - so I said I wanted to go to an art supplies shop to get some stuff for art class. I found that Cass Art supplies were just round the corner and I picked up some acrylic paints that were on sale and other bits and pieces. Luckily as we were still close to the car park, we could nip back and put them in the boot so we didn't have to carry them round the exhibition - another good reason for driving up.
TLH then said he'd quite like to have a nose around the Apple shop on Regent Street so off we went. We didn't stay very long because it was full and steaming hot with all the sweaty nerds, and we managed to find ourselves standing close to someone who smelt of wee and unwashed hair, so we made a dash for it out to the - relative - fresh air of Regent Street. I noticed that the Union Jack flags were still hanging up over the Oxford Street end so went to take a photo, but I don't think it came out very well - a bit too dark and I had to stand precariously on some railings in order to get higher than peoples' heads:
We decided it was time to head off to the Royal Academy so TLH led me down Conduit Street and into New Bond Street where he let me ooh and aah over the amazing sparklies in the jewellery shop windows, and I took a much brighter picture of flags and swanky cars:
We got to the RA at about 2.15pm but they let us in anyway. There's always a really big sculpture in the front courtyard. This year's offering was by Chris Wilkinson RA and was a series of large frames one behind the other, pivoted at different angles, called 'From Landscape to Portrait':
Jake and Dinos Chapman's enormous rusty dinosaurs back in 2007 followed by Barry Flanagan's Nijinski Hares in 2010.
Up the stairs we went, into the vestibule where they take your ticket and this year, instead of then turning left and passing into Room I, as is traditional, the entrance goes straight into the Wohl Central Hall, an octagonal shaped space. For this year's Exhibition, the walls of the Central Hall have been painted a fabulous red.
To be honest, I can't recall what order we did the rooms, so I'll just post up the pictures that I took and tell you what I can of them. Because I was doing guerilla photography, for a few of the paintings that caught my eye I totally failed to get their catalogue number and it's been impossible to work out which one they are afterwards when going through the catalogue, especially if, for example, the painting is of a tin of golden syrup but it's called something like 'Remembrances of Things Past'! So I'll give info where I can and links to webpages if the artist has one, okay?
For the first time, I believe, the paintings this year have been hung off 'the line'. Traditionally, 'the line' is the eye height of the average visitor (I imagine somewhere between 5'6" and 6' tall) and is the most prestigious spot to have your picture hung. In the past, much butt-hurt has been caused by paintings being hung either above or below 'the line', so important has this been. But this year 'the line' has been transformed into a wave, as you can sort of see in the two pictures below. I hadn't noticed until just now that the walls have been painted grey, rather than the more usual maroon or dark green, but it doesn't detract from the paintings at all.
The paintings are also less crammed in than normal and while the galleries are still busy, they're not nearly so frenetic, and you don't have to crane your neck back to see the pictures at the top. I thought it was a massive, massive improvement. You can also see how much easier it is to actually view the paintings without there being so many people in the way - the galleries were airy and cool, which made for an infinitely more pleasurable viewing experience.
Lee Madgwick. I can't say exactly why I like it - I'm a bit of a sucker for hyperrealism in paintings and although this isn't hyperrealist, it just clicked for me. He had another in the show of an abandoned house with a well-kept garden - it's the first image you see on his website.
Anthony Green RA, it'll set you back a cool £12,000.
Interestingly there was some textile art this year. I don't recall there being anything like this at the previous Summer Exhibitions that I've attended so it was great to see them, being as how I'm a bit fond of the fibre. This was an embroidery by Lara Punch which I liked even though it was a quite straightforward design - I've seen some truly exceptional artwork done with painted silk and embroidery, such as these hand embroidered portraits but, hey, the established artworld has to start somewhere!:
And this was called 'What Remains of La Contessa' by Lynne Brackley and was the top half of an Elizabeth costume knitted over a frame of wood and metal:
I liked this image of a handaxe, mostly because it resonated with my previous life as an archaeologist. It's been painted on a sheet of aluminium and is called 'Milestone' by Benjamin Clarke:
In this group I was rather taken with the bright pink one that looked a bit like an alien. Called 'Polypolyphemous', it's by Jennifer Harding:
Tracey Emin has got herself a nice little earner going here; this year she's put in three prints and one large painting. I'm very, very undecided about our Tracey - most of her stuff I do not like at all, but I do have a soft spot for her bird pictures and the ones she does of Docket, her cat. So I liked the bird print, 'Small and Beautiful', that she put in this year, as did everyone else (the red dots equals a sale, at £275 a print):
And I liked it much better than the big painting, 'Upset', she exhibited, which can be yours for a mere £165,000:
I quite like Michael Craig-Martin's stuff - very graphic (as in design rather than obscenity!), with bright, flat colours, and I thought this large map he did, 'Globalisation', where all the countries are mislabelled, was interesting although I'm not sure what he was trying to say. Pretty colours though:
Also in the picture above, you can see people looking into a cabinet. One of the items in there tickled both me and TLH. Again, sadly, I don't have the number or the details so can't tell you much except it's a small cardboard box that has printed on the top "A daily promise - take 1 a day. Edition 1. *for the alleviation of daily wretchedness" and it is filled with rolls of paper - a bit like fortune cookie slips - that say things like "I will respond appropriately" and "I will read Proust":
One of things I really liked about the hanging of this particular Summer Exhibition was that, traditionally, the little prints and the 'animal corner' were tucked away in the Large and Small Weston Rooms. This has always caused a massive bottleneck because these are where the most affordable and popular pieces are likely to be found, and it was was always absolutely horrible trying to elbow your way in and around them. Dreadful.
This year saw some common sense. The small pictures were scattered among all the other, larger, works - as were the photographs which have, in the past, had a room to themselves - and the Small Weston Room was given over entirely to a 25-minute trilogy of films set in Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge by Jayne Parker, featuring cellist Anton Lukoszevieze. The bit of the film that I saw sounded very nice, and I recorded 30 seconds of it:
The Large Weston Room featured a few larger pieces, for example, 'Chicken Chair' by Olu Shobowale, who specialises in making things out of animal bones. Not sure that this would be all that comfortable, no matter how eye-catching. Oh, and can you imagine how many cats you'd have to beat away with sticks?:
Behind it on the wall is a very large piece called 'Peg Painting' by Annie Morris. This is made up of thousands of wooden clothes pegs, each with a cartoon of a naked lady on it. It kind of reminded me of those drawings of slave ships where the slaves are shown lying on the deck so you can see how they fitted in. Is the artist here saying women are slaves to domestic chores, I wonder?:
Also in this room was a long thin sculptural piece that was reminiscent of the Elgin marbles mixed with the Bayeux Tapestry but in 3D. Called 'Sweetly the air flew overhead, Battle with the Unicorns No. 11' by Cathy de Monchaux, it was full of little models of men on horseback and spiky-backed dogs with banners and so forth, all in a big battle scene. TLH didn't care for it much, but I quite liked it:
As always, there were some gorgeous etchings by Norman Ackroyd RA but I wasn't buying any of his this year:
Tilda Swinton, 'Red but Unread', painted by her husband, John Byrne:
And in front of this, in a case, was a sculpture of the head of David, made entirely from unused matches - 'David (No. 3 of 8)' by David Mach RA:
David Mach was the artist who made the enormous gorilla out of coat hangers that I wrote about in my 2010 Summer Exhibition post and, this year, he's also contributed a life size cheetah also made out of coat hangers. It's called 'Spike' and will set you back £170,000 and catch on all your jumpers:
Other pictures that I liked that I failed to get any details of are -
An arctic seascape:
Reflections in the water:
I like the red mistiness of this picture - could be a cityscape through early morning polluted mist, hard to tell, but it's dead atmospheric, almost like the start of Blade Runner:
Similarly, I love the light in this middle picture:
In this room, though, I was charmed by this painting of two dogs looking out of windows ('The Underdog' by Oliver Canti):
And I also liked this painting of an abandoned car slowly being overgrown, another realist picture ('Sleep No. 2' by Covadonga Valdes):
This large robot-like skeleton was particularly eye-catching but, again, I have no details for it:
And I just loved the colours in this huge painting - as must have the Royal Academy itself because this is one of the paintings you can buy a postcard of in the gift shop - 'Buffalo Grill' by Jock McFadyen):
And then there was this bin. It was placed in such a location that it probably was a bin. Or maybe it wasn't. As I approached it, I noticed a well-dressed, besuited middle aged gentleman (the kind who is probably a solicitor) looking down at it. I stood next to him. His shoulders were shaking with laughter. We looked at each other. We looked back at the bin. We looked back at each other. I said to him, "Surely not?" He said, "Indeed it is - apparently it's a self portrait" and he started laughing again, "...and it's £26,000!". I said, "Just fancy, you could keep it in the kitchen and put your rubbish in it!". We laughed a lot. I guess you had to be there. But, really, even if this is made from painted bronze and is by a Royal Academician, would YOU pay £26,000 - more than the price of my first flat - for this (and if you would, then I've got this bridge you might be interested in):
There's always one room that's dedicated to architectural drawings and models. I often find this room overwhelming and, frankly, you can spend as much time in here as in the rest of the exhibition combined if you wanted to have a proper look at absolutely everything so I'm afraid I did just rather swan through here until TLH pointed out this metal hedgehog thing with fibre optics sticking out of it that changed colour. This is obviously something conceptual but I would be intrigued to see it built, although I don't necessarily like it all that much ('Neuron Pod for Queen Mary University' by Will Alsop RA):
Onwards into the next room then. The middle of this particular room had lots of small sculptural pieces, and some bigger ones, set on plinths and on the floor. I understand it must be challenging to display this particular sort of item effectively but I don't think this worked. It was odd - it reminded me too much of a charity shop, or a jumble sale. This slightly out of focus photo will show you what I mean (I had to take it quickly, I hid the red-shirted Gallery Steward from my view by positioning the pink crocodile with maiden between us so I only had seconds to take these two pictures):
The next room after this is the one where they've often put the photographs in the past but, as I mentioned above, this year the photos were scattered throughout the rest of the rooms. There were some big pieces in here, including one that was comprised of a series of gold squares with a representation of a boy's head on the central one, with branches sticking out of his head. As you do. I did like the swirling wooden sculpture, though:
After this there was another gallery that had some brightly coloured sculptures, and also some carved and polished granite shapes. There were some 3D geometrical ones in pink and grey granite (you can just see them to the right of TLH's legs in this picture). I could imagine barking your shin on them would get old very quickly:
Although I did like the swirly flat granite shapes that had sections of different textures. Must've weighed a tonne, though. All the granite stuff was by John Maine RA:
And with that, we were done. We exited through the gift shop - where I picked up a few bits and pieces - stopped off at Laduree for a box of ruinously expensive (but oh-so-delicious) macarons where I received genuine French service from the overly made-up woman behind the till who couldn't bring herself to crack even the slightest smile while she grudgingly put some of these beautifully coloured, jewel-like morsels into a box for me:
By the time we got back to the car I could barely walk but we managed to avoid the rush hour and got home within about 90 minutes!
All in all, a fantastic day. Both TLH and I agreed that this was the best Summer Exhibition that we've been to so far, and I would urge you to go if you find yourself in the neighbourhood.