Monday, June 15, 2015

The Summer Exhibition on the BBC

The BBC's coverage of the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 includes:
Plus it highlights one of the RA's own short films about the exhibition from the perspective of individuals - with Harry Hill at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition

BBC Arts article - includes an interview with Michael Craig-Martin,the curator of the RA Summer Exhibition 2015

The annual BBC Summer Exhibition documentary

To my mind the format for the annual documentary film by the BBC has become very tired. It's exactly the same every year.
  • interview with the curator
  • highlight some key feature of the exhibition
  • follow three artists as they go through the process of entering the exhibition and then finding out if they've got in
  • BBC journalists act as judges and select five pieces - and then discover whether they have made it into the exhibition
  • glitz and glam segment for the Opening Night Party

Mind you, the BBC website in one respect is better than last year when I reviewed The new BBC Arts Website (07 Jun 2014) and wrote
A review of the BBC Arts website and issues around design accessibility. ... Just try finding a link to tonight's BBC2 programme "The Summer Exhibition: BBC Arts at the Royal Academy" - it's absolutely nowhere to be seen!
This year's BBC Arts front page is below and as you can see the Summer Exhibition gets a significant profile.

BBC Arts 'front page' where there are not one but two articles about the Summer Exhibition
plus Tracy Emin thrown in for free

Documentary Plus Points


  • I do like the short interviews with the artists who got through the digital stage. They include some short sound bites which illuminate what it's like for the artist.
  • It's always illuminating for those submitting work to see how fast the works go fast the selectors
  • the hang process is always fascinating and I always love hearing Norman Ackroyd talking about anything to do with the Summer Exhibition.


  • the interviews with the serious art people e.g. Michael Craig-Martin, the RA Archivist, Norman Ackroyd and Tom Phillips are illuminating and worthwhile.

2015 Exhibition - curatorial emphasis (i.e. what makes it different!)

I also like the way the programme gives a serious profile to the emphasis introduced in the 2015 Exhibition by Michael Craig-Martin
  • the RA Schools which are funded by the ticket sales and submission fees earned from the exhibition. Michael Craig-Martin is very keen on highlighting the art education aspects of the exhibition.
  • the profile given to the great artists (Blake, Constable, Turner, Millais) who have studied at the RA Schools was interesting
  • the emphasis on the older mature artists - and the celebration of the lost generation of living artists - instigated by Michael Craig-Martin is an important inclusion, particularly the interview with Rose Hilton which was fascinating.

BBC Annual Exhibition Report Form: "could try harder"

The introduction to this year's documentary is awful, cliched and has managed to go downmarket.
Kirsty Wark and Morgan Quaintance visit the Royal Academy as it prepares for its annual artistic extravaganza. They meet the cast of people who have come together to make the show unique - Michael Craig-Martin, the godfather of Brit Art, in his role as chief curator, singer/songwriter Jessie Ware as she leads the charge at the opening night party, and a handful of talented aspiring artists from across the nation who submitted their paintings in hope of a place in this hallowed institution.
For a start, Kirsty Wark now seems to fill the role of some sort of expert art collector and the documentary no longer seems to merit a serious art journalist (e.g. Alastair Sooke, Waldemar Januszczak or Andrew Graham-Dixon) with any street cred.
  • Maybe because the format is so tired and none of them want to be associated with it?  
  • Or because the BBC is cutting costs?
  • Or because the Director decided he wanted somebody more edgy - which is why we get a contributor to several contemporary art magazines and blogs who's actually more interested in music and sound design. Maybe this then explains why so much of the programme is given over to a singer who has never been to the exhibition before whose opinions are sought and who then sings at the "celebrity party"
Next it managed to get 'glamour' and 'celebrity' into the opening sentences summarising the documentary - treating the arts audience as if it were some offshoot of the Daily Mail!

The curator Michael Craig-Martin is then portrayed as some 'Don' like figure and described as "the Godfather of Brit Art".

Three points about the cliche and tiredness of the format
  1. It's just plain BAD to keep doing the same thing year after year. The exhibition is DIFFERENT every year
  2. To my mind it's insulting to the very many artists and art lovers around the country who deserve a better and more intelligent approach.
  3. We actually get to see incredibly little of the art
Most particularly the BBC need to remember this programme is supposed to be about an Art Exhibition and not some "celebrity entertainment" or more general "arts show".

Is the BBC really not aware that art and art exhibitions contribute significantly to the economy - particularly in London where they are a major generator of revenue streams?

To illustrate my point - very little of what I heard during my introduction to the exhibition by Michael Craig-Martin and others who curated the show and organised the rooms bears any resemblance to what's in the film.  I heard serious contributions in the Main Galleries. In the documentary the only serious contribution comes in the interviews with the RA people - but it's hitting headlines and soundbites for the most part.

Somebody also really needs to rewrite scripts which describe "a couple of surprise celebrities" who "submit their work every year".  If you featured one of the celebrities in the programme last year it's hardly a surprise is it?

Here's a challenge for the BBC

  1. Why not revisit the format and give it a makeover and refresh - and make it less dumbed down?
  2. Why the emphasis on amateur 'kitchen sink' artists re. those submitting work? 
    • Why not feature more of the professional artists who aspire to get into the exhibition? 
    • Why not show more of their processes for creating art - and in doing so provide the kitchen sink artists with some free education?
  3. Why is it a good idea to highlight three artists who create their representative artwork at home with no reference subject in front of them apart from a photograph? 
    • Are the BBC saying this is a normal way to create art?  
    • Is it a balanced perspective on the art on display in the exhibition?
  4. Why is it a good idea to highlight a celebrity creating a portrait based on the cover of Time Magazine?  Did anybody mention whether or not the photographer gave his permission?
  5. Why misrepresent the content and only focus on only drawing and painting? 
    • Given that the prints are always one of the most popular rooms in the exhibition, why not look at what it takes for non RAs to produce a good fine art print 
    • or a sculpture 
    • or an exhibition quality photograph? 

and finally......

I reread some of my past comments about the exhibition in doing this post. It appears that a number of the weaknesses of the Exhibition which I've highlighted in the past (and I'm sure I wasn't the only one!) have been addressed this year by the RA.

It's now time for the BBC to do likewise!


My previous blog posts about this year's exhibition

Exhibition details

  • The exhibition is at Burlington House in Piccadilly, the home of the RA until 16th August 2015
  • It's open Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm and Friday 10am – 10pm
  • Admission is £13.50 (without donation £12). Concessions available. Friends of the RA and under 16s go free.


  1. Hear hear!!
    PS I enjoyed listening to Rose Hilton.

  2. I so agree with all of that, I was completely enraged by the tired old format and the celebritying up of the whole event, Una Stubbs, Harry Hill etc..why? Also it's as if we can't sit still through a whole arts programme unless we get a glimpse of Jerry Hall and other dressed up celebs
    . I also object to the way they go on and on about what an honour it is for the "ordinary people" to hang alongside RAs, when you see some of their work, they should be honoured to be hanging alongside such excellent non RA's. But I agree about Norman Ackroyd and I though Michael Craig Martin was very good too.


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