Monday, June 11, 2007

Innovation and tradition at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

The Pimms Bar 2007
8" x 10", pencil and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The 239th Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition at Burlington House opens to the public today. As a Friend of the Royal Academy I get a Private View invite every year. One is rotated through the several days of private Views required to get everybody through before it opens properly. Mine was one of the later ones this year and consequently by the time I arrived there were a goodly number of red spots on work which had been sold.

No review of mine (or anybody else's for that matter) could possibly do any sort of justice to the 1161 works on view - especially as they range from paintings, prints drawings and sculpture to architecture, installation art and this year, for the very first time ever, photography. The final exhibition - which is the world's largest open submission contemporary show - is selected from over 10,000 entries.

Here's just a few things that stick in mind - and those that don't
  • I'm not generally a fan of the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman - but I loved their sculpture in the front courtyard of Burlington House. Called "The Meek shall inherit the earth but not the mineral rights" (a quote from John Paul Getty), the massive sculpture comprises three metal dinosaurs. I gather very large cranes were required to manouvre this steel sculpture into place.
  • Gallery I includes work being exhibited by American Modern Masters Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Lucas Paper/Pulp 2006 by Chuck Close - a stencilled hand made paper print - is being exhibited in the the Print Gallery.
  • Every year I enjoy the work in the Large Weston Room - the Print Gallery - and this was no exception. This gallery was hung by Norman Ackroyd RA whose own etchings of Scottish Islands were stunning. Do take a look at his website for other etching of places in the UK and Ireland. This year he taught Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the President of the RA, how to produce an etching and the result is also shown in this gallery. Other works I like were the portrait called New Yorker by Lucien Freud and "Chance Encounter - Grand Central" by Bill Jacklin - presumably based on his painting of the same name
  • Pricing of prints appeared to me to demonstrate a fairly pronounced pattern even at this stage. More expensive prints did not appear to be selling so well unless by a very well known name. All prints likely to appeal to a variety of people which were selling for less than £150 on editions of 150 or less seemed to be selling very well indeed. (Do the sums!)
  • the Small Weston Room normally jammed with lots of smaller works - many from the open submission rather than academicians has been hung by Anthony Green RA this year and includes fewer and larger works. I can well understand why he wanted to include Diane Ibbotson's work - but do I actually prefer the traditional approach in this room. Her work would have done very well in Gallery IV.
  • Tom Phillips RA (pa-in-law of Postcard from Provence artist Julian Merrow Smith) curated Gallery I and II and has a number of pieces on show - some of which you can see on his blog. in Gallery II I particularly liked his periwinkles and The Library at Elsinore (a bookcase installation)
The shelves are full of real books whose titles on their spines have been replaced with quotations from Hamlet. Surprisingly, each author named really did once publish a book with the title shown. Finding the correct combination of quotation, author and book took some painstaking research over a period of two years.
  • Gallery IV has the figurative work which I most enjoy. I can most vividly remember Elizabeth Blackadder's watercolour paintings of flowers; various drawings and watercolours by Leonard McComb and Natasha Lien's huge drawing of a tree - in pencil.
  • Gallery IX has been given over to photography - for the very first time. I can't remember very much about it at all - so I think that one ranks as 'must try harder'.
  • Galley X is devoted to Installation Art - and I'm often bored by it - but this year there are some very stimulating and/or entertaining pieces! One of the best bits of the show.
  • I completely missed the controversies - Jeffrey Camp's nude portrait of the RA's Exhibitions Secretary and the Iraq Triptych. I saw the latter but didn't spend any time looking at it - for exactly the same reason that I don't spend much time viewing the news on the box on in print any more. I think I've got to an age where I can start to practice wearing purple more often and need to know much less about things I've learned I can't change.
My annual task halfway through this exhibition is to have a rest and sketch the Pimms Bar in Gallery III having found a seat on the bench at the far end of the gallery (this year with David Hockney's painting of trees on 50 canvases behind me. Did you know people count trees?) and armed myself with (you guessed) a drink of Pimms! You can see the result at the top of this post - although I think I prefer last year's effort.

Exhibition Information:
  • DATES AND OPENING HOURS: Open to the public: Monday 11 June – Sunday 19 August 2007; 10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm). Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)
  • TICKETS: For tickets telephone 0870 848 8484 or visit


  1. Oh, I love this year's AND last year's! You have no idea how much pleasure I take in following you through your days and months. Your sketches are like no one else's!

  2. Thanks Laura. It's also pretty nice to have a record of all the things I've done.

    I think most of the serious sketching is now going on in my other blog unless it's an exhibition as this one was. I'm still posting reference links to all new sketches though.


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