Royal Academy Summer Exhibition


I promised yesterday to write about my trip with Mr. Bsag to the Royal Academy of Arts in London. We've been to the Summer Exhibition together most years since we met, so it has become a bit of a ritual. However, I think that this will be the last year we go.

The Summer Exhibition has been running since 1796, and is unusual because absolutely anyone is allowed to submit works for consideration. Members of the Royal Academy of Arts are allowed to submit 6 works, while everyone else is limited to 3. A selection committee decides which works get exhibited, but there's usually a great mixture of styles, with paintings, prints and sculptures all represented — this is what usually makes it an exciting visit.

However, this year, we found the whole thing rather disappointing. Art is — of course — a hugely subjective thing; one person's masterpiece is another's piece of rubbish. On balance, we felt that there were more works we disliked or thought pretentious and simplistic than those we admired.

The majority of the works are for sale, and we gasped with incredulity at the prices asked for some of them. To give you one example, there was one piece which looked suspiciously like an assortment of small, coloured plastic objects placed in a plastic ashtray and burnt. I imagine the creative process went something like this:

  1. Assemble plastic objects (plastic figures given away in cartons of breakfast cereal should do fine). Place in plastic pub ashtray, light match, and wait until it's all a squidgy, amorphous mass.
  2. Spend five minutes over a pint thinking up an absurdly pretentious title, with absolutely no conceptual link to the piece itself. Visitors looking at the title in the catalogue should — under no circumstances — be able to pick out the piece.
  3. Pick a price for the work, which should be ridiculously high.

There were many pieces which I suspect might have had a similar genesis. Normally, this wouldn't bother me. If fools with money to burn want to waste it on stuff like this, why should I mind? If artists have enough chutzpah to pull it off, shouldn't I be saluting them? Well, perhaps I would if my beloved wasn't working his heart out trying to make a living with his art. I think that's why the whole visit was slightly depressing.

It wasn't all doom and gloom; there were some lovely tempera paintings by David Tindle, which looked like Roman frescos. In total contrast, we loved the vibrant — almost abstract — oils by Donald Hamilton Fraser. Our favourite piece was a scupture of a giant, standing woman — 'Arm's Length' — by David Mach, which was roughly twice life size. It is made of wire coat hangers, with the hooks facing out like a spiky aura. It's a superbly sculpted piece, and if I had £80,000 and a huge room to put it in, I would love to buy it.