A Review of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, London.

Marie Antoinette, the Queen's Hamlet (Model: Zahia Dehar)’ by Pierre et Gilles

Marie Antoinette, the Queen's Hamlet (Model: Zahia Dehar)’ by Pierre et Gilles

“Eclectic, whimsical chaos” – The Telegraph

Co-ordinated by the sculptor Richard Wilson and described by him as “unpredictable, stimulating and startling,” this year's Summer Exhibition focusses on the importance of artistic partnership. Throughout the galleries, Wilson presents the viewer with the pairing of single pieces of work in an attempt to demonstrate the connection formed through creative dialogue. He seeks to showcase the power of art and its ability to evoke empathy, as we are reminded that we often observe it from a perspective other than our own. Incorporating works by familiar names such as Gilbert & George, Heather and Ivan Morison and Anselm Kiefer, as well as those by emerging artists, the show hosts a selection of works in pairings that are - to say the least - random and at times confusing. That said, one can certainly appreciate the diversity of work on show, from the artistic to the architectural.

 

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

Setting aside their contents, the fourteen gallery rooms which the 1,280 works occupy are spaces of pure opulence and even the arguably grotesque work The New Arrival by the famous Chapman Brothers is almost (but not quite) improved by its beautiful surroundings. Although the piece has an undeniably strong visual impact, its graphic detailing seems somewhat unnecessary. The sculpture presents a family of eyeless mannequins that gather around a machine where beheaded faces suck female breasts. As the art critic Mark Hudson observes; “it's fairly horrible and suggests the pair are painfully in need of a few new ideas.”

 

David Nash RA, Big Black, 2016.

David Nash RA, Big Black, 2016.

By comparison, those works on show that are visually pleasurable, are considerably enhanced by their palatial surroundings. Their beauty and artistic merit intensified, rather than overshadowed. Take Marie Antoinette, the Queen's Hamlet (Model: Zahia Dehar) by Pierre et Gilles. Although this kitsch hand painted photograph-on-canvas with its quaint frame, garish pink roses and flamboyant backdrop inclusive of swans on a lake could well be seen as unremarkable by some, the undeniably attractive model and her playful gaze entice the viewer into the almost Rococo composition. While some works such as this stand alone, even those that appear more often than not, ‘cobbled’ together on the large walls of the gallery rooms, can still be appreciated for both their context and visual representation. In room VI Akiko Ban’s Sky Goddess (Japanese watercolour, glitter, PVA glue, wiggly eyes and rhinestones), a work of vibrant colours, joyful figures and organic forms, conveys the celebration of ‘joie de vivre’.

 

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

The show also acknowledges society's changing attitudes towards contemporary art. Gallery IX, known as the ‘Sensation’ room, acknowledges its history - in 1997 certain art in this particular space caused outrage and protest. Although there are still works found here, which can understandably cause distaste, take Sucky Moll a polymer clay miniature sculpture by Michael Stocks of a woman performing fellatio on an excited male. There are pieces that can be appreciated for their performative and playful embrace of contemporary art. This can be observed in The Kipper Kids, by The Kipper Kids (1022) where we find the collaboration of two males, practically naked, performing for the camera.

 

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

To say that the abundance of varied works on show and often crowded curation of the wall hangings is overwhelming would be an understatement. However, what it lacks in consistency as well as clarity at times, it makes up for in its diversity and general high quality of art. It may well be that you leave this year’s show with a need to decompress for at least three hours in order to make sense of everything you have observed. However, it is safe to say that once you are done with visually filtering everything you have seen, Wilson’s intent to emphasise the importance of creative dialogue and artistic collaboration will indeed stay with you. 

 

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

 STEPHEN WHITE/RA

Open 13th June - 21st August

Written by Lara Monro, contributor to Arteviste.com