Some things are synonymous with the great British summer – Wimbledon… Glyndebourne… strawberries and cream… But the real cherry on the cake has to be The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Luckily, there is still plenty of time to catch the 248th edition of this celebrated showcase, which runs until the 21st of August.
Curated by British sculptor Richard Wilson, this year saw 12,000 entries whittled down to 1,240 works by a committee of Royal Academicians. No easy task but the fruits of their labour can be seen covering the walls of the Main Galleries in Burlington House. Wilson has also invited a diverse group of more than 20 international artistic duos to exhibit at this year’s event. For example, Jane & Louise Wilson have created a haunting photographic installation using a number of large-scale works from the artists’ seminal series ‘Chernobyl (2010-2012).
With the majority of pieces for sale, art buffs and novices alike are given a unique opportunity to purchase original artwork by high profile and up-and-coming artists. It’s always fun to take a punt on a newcomer and hope they will become the next big thing. For the first time in the show’s history, many of the print editions featured in the exhibit are also available to purchase online via the RA’s website.
My pulse usually starts to race even before I have had my ticket checked and this year’s courtyard masterpiece doesn’t disappoint. Architect and sculptor Ron Arad’s site-specific installation ‘Spyre’ is a 16-metre high corten steel oval cone, containing motors, cogs, and slew-rings. Each segment moves at different speeds, ensuring that the unpredictable acrobatic postures of the installation are never repeated. At the tip of ‘Spyre’ is an eye holding a camera, the footage from which is relayed to a screen on the gallery’s façade behind. Just make sure you are happy for the world to see your face beamed out live to all and sundry before you stand too close though.
There is another reason for making a beeline to The Royal Academy this month. Following his blockbuster exhibition of landscapes in 2012, David Hockney is back, this time with a brand new body of work; ’82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life’. Held in the RA’s Sackler Galleries and running July 2nd – October 2nd, the showcase reveals an intimate snapshot of the LA art world and the characters who have crossed Hockney’s path over the past two and a half years.
Painted over a specific timeframe spanning three days, subjects include friends, family, acquaintances and staff. John Baldessari, Celia Birtwell, Dagny Corcoran, Larry Gagosian, Frank Gehry, Barry Humphries, David Juda and Jacob Rothschild are all captured on canvas, along with Hockney’s siblings, John and Margaret.
Interestingly, Hockney uses the same size canvas for each portrait (121.9 x 91.4cm) with each of the subjects seated in the same chair against a background of signature turquoise or cobalt blue. In addition to exploring Hockney’s own development working in the medium of acrylic, the portraits give a glimpse into the personality of each sitter. According to show organisers, Hockney set himself a considerable challenge to complete this large body of work. His deep interest in portraiture and its changing role in the history of art are clear to see as he challenges the viewer’s perception of the value of portraiture in the 21st Century.
As you stand before each piece, it’s easy to forget the changeable British weather outside. And even if the summer turns out to be yet another washout, Hockney’s vibrant slabs of colour – the cerise pink of Barry Humphries chinos or Rita Pynoos’ scarlet-coloured skirt – are guaranteed to brighten your mood.
The Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly.