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A festival at the Royal Academy of Arts: The Summer Exhibition!

The traditional and much awaited Summer Exhibition is on again, assembling works of talented artists famous and not yet famous for a diverse audience. A true festival of artworks, paintings, sculptures, videos and photography. This year’s Summer Exhibition celebrates artistic duos. Our perception of the practice of art making with an artist labouring in splendid isolation is quite curious. Richard Wilson RA who is the founder of complicated sculptures but also the Exhibition’s coordinator can only testify about making art being the outcome of different collaborations. ‘It involves a dialogue between raw materials and the artist’s sources of inspiration, but also encompasses relationships with dealers, galleries, other artists, and, at the very least, the viewer’.

The works of Ackroyd & Harvey, Allora & Calzzadilla, Boyd & Evans, Anna and Benhard Blume, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings, and many more, are exhibited.

Ten main galleries, five smaller rooms and 1200 artworks for very different taste:

The Wohl Central Hall only reveals 10 different artworks, other areas of the building are actually much more filled up. But the variety of media used is already in this first room at the entrance, officially expressed. Gallery I is beautifully besieged by 10,000 LCD panels and Kutluğ Ataman’s The Portrait of Sakıp Sabancı. Gilbert & George’s amusing ‘Beard Aware’ overlooks gallery II. And gallery III has a gorgeous bar for refreshments where visitors can stop to have a sip of a fancy pink lemonade and examine at the same time the superposition of different artworks at various levels of spacious walls around them. Jock McFadyen RA has turned gallery IV into a radical landscape, exploring the ways in which artists continue to be inspired by their physical surroundings. Nature and Earth are represented in multiple ways.

Activity combined with stillness were Stephen Chambers RA concerns in his selection of abstract prints in gallery V. For Chambers, less is always more, and ‘the skill of the artist is to know what to leave out as much as what to put in’. What does Art looks like when it tries to heal the world? Gallery VI shows sculptures made from detritus collected after the 2011 tsunami, including cassettes, bottles, books and scraps of wood. Gallery VII or the origins of printmaking. Simplicity and care, colour and layers are at the spotlight in this area. In Gallery VIII, David Remfry encourages us to focus on minutiae and intangible connections. Stop and stare. You are also here to be seen eventually, staring at looking for the cryptic details of these various artworks. Visitors will be entertained by a provoking and shocking gallery IX. Gallery X is a contemplation of the world through photography! Bill Woodrow RA has turned photographs into objects of inspection.

In the Small Weston Room, Bernd and Hilla Becher, one of the artistic duos selected by Richard Wilson RA shared their interest in the rapidly disappearing German industrial architecture of the Ruhr Valley. Gas tanks, cooling towers, water towers and stoneworks from documents of industrial archaeology have been transformed into poetic reflections on shape and three-dimensional structure. The ‘Unbuilt’ is an aspect of architectural practice that is highly significant but often obscured. No longer taboo for Ian Ritchie RA and Louisa Hutton RA who decided to stress on this specific thematic in the Large Weston Room. The Lecture Room wraps up an overpowering exhibition, very rich and amusing. This room seeks to be ‘huge and wonderful’.

When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, one of its key objectives was to establish an annual exhibition, open to all artists of merit, which could be visited by the public. Since then, Summer Exhibitions have come one after the other without exception. Today, around 1,000 works are selected each year from as many as 10,000 entries representing some 5,000 artists. Any artist may submit up to two works at a fee of £25 per piece for selection by The Summer Exhibition Selection and Hanging Committee. The committee is formed from the Council of Academicians (the governing body of the RA) and is traditionally chaired by the President of the Royal Academy. In addition to those works selected by the committee, all 80 Academicians are entitled to have six of their own pieces in the exhibition.

As the FT’s spotted, the only irony of this year’s Summer Exhibition is its main thematic of double acts such as Gilbert & George or Jake and Dinos Chapman are actually barred from membership by the institution’s 18th century rules. However, this year’s edition is superb, definitely hard to leave the RA, you will feel like you want to walk back, explore galleries again and look closer to the artworks. Visitors literally discover something new every time they step back. Summer Exhibition is on until the 21st August! Run!

Photo credit: Installation view of the Summer Exhibition 2016 (c) Stephen White

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