Culture: Visual Arts

Beige Recommends: Summer Exhibition 2013

Summer Exhibition 2013

The 245th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy starts before you even enter the building. Draped across the front entrance is El Anatsui’s wall-hanging sculpture, which shimmers in the sunlight.

Tsiatsia – searching for connection –  is a site-based courtyard installation made out of aluminium bottle-tops, printing plates and roofing sheets. It’s a wonder that such mundane materials can create such a dramatic work of art.

What’s particularly wonderful is that you can practically see the tapestry from the street, so it literally is for everyone, not just culture vultures who descend on the Summer Exhibition to see one of the world’s largest open-submission art exhibitions.

This year, there are 1,200 entries which have been whittled down by a panel of judges from an astonishing 12,000.

Printmaker Norman Ackroyd, one of the judges, claims that the Summer Exhibition is one of the most democratic of all art exhibitions – chosen by artists, for artists.

Grayson Perry RA. The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, 2012

The works are submitted anonymously, so the judges have no idea whether the art is by Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin or Tracy Beaker.

In fact, Tracey Emin does have an exhibit here. The artist, best known for conceptual work such as her unmade bed, has recently taken to sculpture, and has created a misshapen model of her beloved cat in bronze.

This is one of the most comprehensive art shows, and the powers that be have done their level best to include all mediums – from painting, architectural models, photography, printmaking, sculpture and tapestries.

But these exemplary efforts to cram as much as possible on the walls may be to their detriment, as the works of art compete with each other for the viewer’s attention. And as most people (including myself) have the attention span of a gnat, it’s very difficult to get enough time to truly appreciate the artworks.

For example, in one of the rooms where there were perhaps well over 30 items, my eye was drawn to a fluorescent pink lion. Predator, by David Mach (selling for a cool £36,000) was by far the gaudiest, campest piece in the room – and although there’s nothing wrong with that – it does seem a shame that much more subtle pieces are destined to languish in the face of such competition.

Nevertheless, there’s so much to see, you really need to fortify yourself with a good breakfast, spend the morning gazing around, have a substantial lunch – and then come back for the afternoon for another artistic feast.

It’s rare that you get to see such varied work. I was particularly taken by Metamorphosis by Margaret Barrett. She’s from the Blue Peter school of art, having collected as many green plastic water bottles as she can, and fastened them together with woollen yarn to fashion a furry caterpillar. Which I think is well worth the £600 asking price.

Most heartening of all is the number of nonagenarian artists on show, including 97-year-old Leonard Manasseh, an architect turned painter, whose work Confused Clarity, a watercolour painting shows sparkle and verve.

As Ackroyd says: “There’s hope  for us all yet.”

The RA summer exhibition runs until 18 August 2013.

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