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Royal Academy of Arts: Summer Exhibition

The 242nd Summer Exhibition showcases a diverse range of works in painting, sculpture, architecture and film, featuring both unknown and infamous artists…

Written by Naomi Law

Barry Flanagan’s Nijinski Hare, illustrated by Naomi Law

I recently stepped out of London’s unusually baking sun to enjoy an afternoon visit to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. On reaching the courtyard, the whole place seemed to be in high spirits with Barry Flanagan’s bronze hares prancing around and the ordinarily stern permanent statue sporting a floral sash.

Photograph by Naomi Law

During the largest open exhibition in the UK, the labyrinthine rooms of Burlington House play host to a swarm of artists, from the unknown to the infamous, waiting to surprise visitors around every corner. Everyone is welcome to submit work to the exhibition each year, resulting in a diverse collection ranging from painting to architecture, and sculpture to film. The majority of the works on display are for sale, and although the prices predictably reach the astronomical, there are several pieces accessible to those with more modest purse strings if you take a closer look.

This year’s theme is Raw, which according to David Chipperfield, co-ordinator of the architecture room, signifies ‘vitality, risk taking and a necessary sense of adventure.’ Stephen Chambers, the main co-ordinator of this year’s show, states that raw art is ‘fresh, new, visceral and affirmative. Some of it is fairly scary too’.

Perhaps one of the most talked about pieces in the show is David Mach’s Silver Streak, a ferocious larger-than-life gorilla made entirely from wire coat hangers. These are surprisingly effective in creating a sense of weight and movement – he’s an imposing figure!

David Mach’s Silver Streak, illustrated by Paul Shinn

Mach appears again just behind the gorilla with Babel Towers, a huge and complex collage of an outlandish seaside town with the mountainous ‘tower’ ascending into the clouds.

On entering many of the rooms, your eye is dutifully drawn to plenty of bold and large-scale works. Somehow the flamboyance of these pieces drew my attention to the smaller or less immediately-noticeable pieces, and this is what I have largely chosen to focus on.

My childhood fascination with anything miniature (and consequent hours spent creating minute little things from Fimo) was happily indulged by the collection of architects’ models and drawings in the Lecture Room.

Visitors are treated to views of buildings in their ‘raw’ forms, as seen through the eyes of the architect. The methods of construction and presentation of these models is as fascinating as the designs themselves.

It will come as no surprise that I spent the longest time in the Small Weston Room, which is filled with over two hundred smaller paintings, some no larger than a postcard.

Several otherwise everyday scenes are beautified in oils: Francis Matthews’ The Coombe depicts a Dublin street corner whilst Josephine Greenman uses the familiar blue and white of a traditional dinner service to render miniscule domestic settings in Silence I & II.

Amazing craftsmanship can also be seen in Claire Moynihan’s Moth Balls, 2010; dozens of moths are intricately embroidered onto their own Alpaca wool felt ball.

In the Large Weston Room, David Borrington predicts the state of the high street in 2020 if a certain supermarket is allowed to continue its invasion of our neighbourhoods. Globull Internashll Tescgoows 2020 is a stark reminder of the need to find an alternative.

David Borrington’s Globull Internashll Tescgoows, courtesy of the artist’s website

Just around the corner Oran O’Reilly’s beautifully comic Rizla, after Hokusai shows the famous Great Wave surging from a pack of cigarette papers. Maybe not such an odd pairing considering the prevalence of Hokusai’s wave in poster form in student accommodation up and down the country (admittedly including my own not so long ago).

Also currently on display at the Royal Academy, and well worth seeing, is a collection of work by academicians who have passed away over the last year. I was particularly taken with Michael Kidner’s painstakingly drawn geometric forms in No Thing Nothing.

If you can’t make it to the Royal Academy, you can see work from A-level students selected for the online exhibition here.

All photographs courtesy of the Royal Academy, unless otherwise stated.


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