Monday, June 20, 2016

10 artworks of merit at the RA Summer Exhibition 2016

This post is about the ten artworks which remain most clearly in my mind at the end of my visit to the 248th Summer Exhibition at the RA 10 days ago. Plus:
  • images of the same 
  • my general commentary on the exhibition, and, 
  • at the end, links to other reviews of the exhibition
The exhibition is open every day and continues until 21 August. Admission is £13.50 - but is this a good deal?

RA Summer Exhibition 2016 - Interior of the large Gallery III 
I try to make sense of the huge nature of the exhibition by trying to think of 10 reasons to see it. This post follows on from ones in previous years such as 10 reasons why the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 might surprise you and 10 reasons to visit the RA Summer Exhibition 2013

To this end I got the end of my visit on Friday and sat and thought about whether there were 10 artworks that I'd want to highlight, Interestingly this was after I'd been scribbling in my Moleskine and catalogue and had been asked by various visitors what I thought of the exhibition!  I find it very difficult to formulate views about the exhibition while in the middle of it because the sheer amount of artwork on display is almost mind-numbing.

I tend to go for a walk through the rooms to get a general sense of it - and then come back and start again. Viewing this year was interrupted by the necessity of making time to sit down periodically because of my decrepit knee - and I departed in the middle of my viewing for lunch at Fortnum & Masons for a break, a think and a scribble!

Here's a summary of collected thoughts about the exhibition:
  • an emphasis on figurative rather than realistic - there are very few realistic paintings in the show
  • the paintings were OK - but nothing of particular merit - I found the drawings and prints much more interesting and I do think this is an exhibition which printmakers and people who can draw should take very seriously. Oddly the "small works" room which Bill Jacklin created had paintings by him either end which had both sold. They certainly stood out in comparison with most of the paintings on display in that room. 
Landscapes and abstracts on one wall in Gallery II
Still life and people on the facing wall in Gallery II
  • not as exciting as last year's show - it's missing that certain something which elevates Summer Exhibition - and I don't just mean last year's pink wall. It also felt muddled.
  • lots and lots of sales - this really was one of the very first things I noticed. Red dots everywhere. Consequently although it might not be a critical success I'm pretty sure it will do better financially than some recent shows
  • the sculpture room was a complete mess - as was much of the sculpture. A lot of it reminded me of school art exhibitions. The standout pieces of sculpture are typically in the other galleries. What's most odd about this as Richard Wilson, the co-ordinator of this year's exhibition - is a leading British sculptor
  • the "two artists" theme didn't come through to me for quite a while. I approached the exhibition very much as an ordinary visitor with no press releases and no explanation from curators and it's interesting to note the difference between stated intentions and what is actually achieved.
  • art to shock is just boring - when will selection panels realise that art that sets out to shocks has no merit whatsoever unless there is also something about it which achieves a merit. A number of the tabloids decided to focus on the p*rn - and I can't say I'm surprised! See below for the reviews. (Note: 'rude' words never make an appearance on this blog because of the ripple implications online - it's just not worth it!)
  • somebody forgot to think about the long views - one of the things I've always liked about the Summer Exhibition is that there is scope to look through the archways and see into other galleries. The best exhibitions have always constructed a great long view - and they're missing for the most part this year. 
Wouldn't it be nice if the RA announced a theme for the year IN ADVANCE?  That way those submitting work can decide whether to go with the theme or ignore it. Either way they'll always be taking their chances - but it might make for a more interesting exhibition.....

The Selection and Hanging Committee 2016

Members are: Stephen Chambers, Louisa Hutton, Bill Jacklin,Jock McFadyen, David Mach, Cathie Pilkington, David Remfry, Ian Ritchie and Bill Woodrow. The Summer Exhibition 2016 Co-ordinator is Richard Wilson.

A monumental work on the end wall of Gallery III
Böse Blumen (evil flowers) by Anselm Kiefer Hon RA
Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, lead and sediment of electrolysis on lead
570 x 280 x 30 cm (NFS)
It appears Kiefer has been developing a series of paintings called Böse Blumen and that these relate to a common misquotation in the West of a well-known phrase pronounced by Chairman Mao

10 artworks of merit

Here's my list of the 10 artsworks which I remembered very well when I'd been round the exhibition twice. Links embedded in the title of the artwork are to its page in the virtual exhibition online which you can find at

Click the gallery names to see the artwork in that gallery.

The interesting thing for me while writing this section of the post is finding out more about the artists and whether or not other people have rated them in the past!  (Well not quite all of them!)

I got to the end before I realised that there isn't a single painting amongst them! That wasn't intentional but it does say something about the paintings in the exhibition.

1. Ellsworth Kelly - drawings of plants

These drawings are so simple and yet so very effective. The exhibit can be seen in Gallery II

I used to draw like this in the past (and it is very much more difficult than it looks) which is why they have a very powerful impact on me. Maybe I need to start trying to be very simple again.

Leucothoe, Hyacinth and Banana Leaf
Drawings of leaves in pencil or pen by Ellsworth Kelly 

Ellsworth Kelly died in December 2015 so I guess the hanging of his drawings is a way of paying tribute to his art. He started drawing plants in the 1940s.  In 1970 Henry Geldzahler, curator of Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, created an exhibition of three decades of New York art. It included two rooms of work by Ellsworth Kelly: one of abstract painting and sculpture, and another given over entirely to drawings of plants. (Times article: Loving Flowers and Vines to Abstraction - Ellsworth Kelly’s Plant Drawings at the Met - a recommended read if you are interested in plant drawing). There was a subsequent exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012 which was the first major museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist’s drawings of plants, flowers, and leaves. This FT articles Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York also raves about his drawings

You can see more of his drawings of plants in pencil in Google Images

2. Self portrait as charcoal on paper by Zatorski + Zatorski

This is another photo of an exhibit Gallery II. The carbonised skeleton in the foreground is by one of the duos who happen to have collaborated with Richard Wilson in the past - hence, I guess, the invitation to exhibit a work in the curated part of the exhibition.

Self portrait as charcoal on paper by Zatorski + Zatorski
carbonised human skeletons, male and female, drawing paper and gold
(Behind it you can see the exhibit made by another duo - Gilbert and George)
I'm not sure this one is of merit - it made me feel uneasy but in relation to ethics not any great concept re. mortality. For that reason it certainly stayed in my mind - plus prompted more than a few thoughts about how do you buy a proper skeleton to make into an artwork!!! I'm assuming somebody remembered to get a licence for display from the Human Tissue Authority? (See also the Museums Association on Human remains in museums)

Zatorski and Zatorski are a married couple who attended different Scottish art schools. Both graduated with a first class degree in 1998 and have since married, run away together and set up studio in Hoxton. Their website indicates they have been very active as artists. They have also developed something called The Cultureship which produces high-impact (not for profit) art projects and performances with a maritime context, free to the public.

They made their exhibit for the exhibition. This is the page on their very curious website relating to the exhibit
Two human skeletons, one male, one female of approximately the artists' own age and build have been carbonised – that is made to be as charcoal, reduced to a pure state of carbon, the very building block of all living things. In an age when the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere threatens our very existence, the work is a memento mori of our time.....
Responding to the notion of the “duo” and questions around artistic collaboration, authorship and our traditional view of the artist as “solitary ego,” Z+Z present themselves as one mark-maker, the mark and as the very drawing material itself – charcoal. The bones are mixed so that there is no conceivable separation between the man and the woman.
Z+Z were inspired by the RA life drawing rooms and the art-making traditions that the academy embodies. In the drawing room the artist is in conversation with their peers, the marks they leave behind forming a connection to past and future artists. ......This collaborative self portrait is a universal portrait of us all and a reminder of the oblivion that awaits us.

3. The Japanese Pen and Ink Drawings of Anja Kemp

I was very impressed with a couple of works by Anja Kempa in the Architecture display in the Large Weston Room which apart from the amazing technique and innovative approach are a total bargain!

Her works are original pen and ink hand drawings. She sells them as a Limited edition print signed and numbered (edition of 25) at A1 size on 315gsm archival Fourdrinier-made paper with a vellum surface. I'm not in the least bit surprised that the edition has sold out.

She has more in her store.

Strolling Geisha (sold out) and Library of Memories (sold out) by Anja Kemp
Anja was awarded a distinction in her MArch (Masters in Architecture) from the Barlett School of Architecture. This is what her website says
Anja’s award winning architectural artwork is regularly exhibited around the capital and her intricate drawing style has received critical acclaim online and in print from leading design and architecture writers including The Architect’s Journal, Dezeen and The Architectural Review amongst others.
One of the things that is also worth remarking on is how the wonderful blue walls really allowed the artwork to shine.

4. Planning Permission Granted (2010 - 2015) by Mobile Studio Architects

This can be seen in the Large Weston Room which houses all the architecture related exhibits.

Their website describes this fun exhibit as follows

Planning Permission Granted (2010-15) is a playful survey of private residential projects by Mobile Studio Architects over the past five years. Some proposals are completed, some under construction whilst others remain unbuilt.
The model shows houses all over London - in different boroughs whose logos are highlighted on the map. The designs for the projects are handmade in card.

I wouldn't be surprised if they some commissions out of this particular exhibit! I couldn't stop looking at (and I was far from alone!) and wished I could have walked all the way round it inspecting from every angle!

5. Industrial archeology in the Ruhr - Photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher

This was possibly the best exhibit in the whole show for me - and I'm glad they gave it a room to itself. I'm not a major fan of industrial archeology but was fascinated by these photographs which have been created with a deliberate intention to make them aesthetically pleasing.

Bernd and Hilla Becher are a husband and wife 'duo' who are German artist-photographers. They were who were preoccupied with creating very formal portraits of old industrial buildings in the Ruhr. They created an archive of the different forms of common industrial buildings of a paerticular period of industrial development. Bernd died in 2007 and Hilla died in 2015. The Guardian had an article about their work in 2014 - see Lost world: Bernd and Hilla Becher's legendary industrial photographs

Water Towers by Bernd and Hilla Becher
Silver gelatin prints
Water Towers and Gas Tanks by Bernd and Hilla Becher
Silver gelatin prints
Their work is held in various public collections including: Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago and
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth. (Click the link in the names to see thei images and/or read about their art on the websites of the museums)

This is not an exhibit you will see very often - and it's worth visiting the exhibition just for this exhibit and a few others.

6. Plants on vellum

More plant drawings! This time they're by Miriam de Burca who is a German Irish artist based in Galway in Ireland.

Her drawings in pen and ink were absolutely exquisite and fascinating. They reminded me of Durer and yet seemed better at the same time. Both had sold and again I'm not in the least bit surprised.

I was puzzled by the titles - but her gallery made sense of them for me.
Miriam de Búrca engages with her own experience of the persisting divisions in Northern Ireland. Her drawings document the wildlife and plants inhabiting the grounds of Crom Estate, a former Anglo-Irish estate in Northern Ireland where she lived, and accentuate the transformation of a place with a fractious history and the conscious effort it takes to recall and understand its past and present.

Deconstructing the North - two drawings in pen and ink by Miriam de Burca
Rushes (41 x 56 x 4 cm) - £2,880 
Buttercup gone to seed (41 x 56 x 4 cm) - £2,880

Now for the prints which are always hugely popular at the Summer Exhibition.......

7. Etchings by Normal Ackroyd RA

I don't mind which print by Norman Ackroyd RA - they're all unfailingly good!  Not all the ones below are by the RA's eminent printmaker but the four at the top and the one at the middle in the bottom are. Do click the link to take a closer look.

Keen eyes will also spot the print in the bottom row showing an image of a tree. This is by one of the artists featured on the BBC programme about the Summer Exhibition.

8. Chris Orr Prints

While Norman Ackroyd is monochromatic and atmospheric and almost Japanese in his aesthetic, the prints by printmaker Chris Orr RA are complex and colourful and verging on the chaotic - and very interesting to the eye. Although if I had to choose between the two in terms of which to hang on a wall it would be Norman every time for me.

I enjoyed looking at Chris Orr works in this exhibition!  You can also see other images here.

Three prints by Chris Orr
(bottom left and those on the right)

9. Sleeping Mouse

Finally the little mouse which caught my attention and also interested rather a lot of other people too.

Hence my earlier posts Pricing prints for the Summer Exhibition and RA Summer Exhibition - open and online - with prints for sale.

Only 20 prints left out of the edition of 150. The mouse has done well!

10. The Tsunami works of Aono Fumiaki

The display of works by Aono Fumiaki is in effect a small solo exhibition in the middle of the larger exhibition.

It was so sad. While some people stopped and looked, the objects are so minimal in appearance that a lot of people walk on by without realising what they are looking at

The artist comes from Sendai - close to the many towns affected by the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. He collects artifacts left over the Tsunami and then mends and restores and combines them with a view to being part of the healing process
The artist intends to “restore” the lost materiality of the objects in the process of reshaping them into new objects and combining the pieces with other substances. His work goes beyond simply transforming or restoring, and aims to heal, fix, and restore. Gallery
The stacks below are made of books and tapes and plastic bottles - because, like the cockroach, plastic can survive anything - even huge walls of water.

Gallery VI: The Mending Restoration works of artifacts from the Tsunami by Aono Fumiaki
The works can be seen in Gallery VI which has as its theme "the role of art in healing the shattered world".

What was really sad was to see people walking by and ignoring them - not realising what they were looking at.

Other reviews of the RA Summer Exhibition 2016

You may have already read a review in your own paper of choice. To see what the rest of them made of it see the review articles below.  I have to say it's at exhibitions like this that I do miss Brian Sewell.

These two dogs at the summer exhibition were very amusing
I saw a few people doing double takes.



There are moments of richness in this year’s architecture room, but there is also a great deal of mediocrityMJ Wells


The Summer Exhibition suffers when the sheer volume of works by amateurs and minor artists is most apparent, and awkward juxtapositions seem more abundant this yearBen Luke

Previous Reviews of the RA Summer Exhibition

2016: RA Summer Exhibition - open and online - with prints for sale (13 June 2016)
About the virtual version of the RA's Summer Exhibition and scope to buy prints online for the first time.

Pricing prints for the Summer Exhibition (11 June 2016)
One very small artwork on display at the 2016 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts very neatly illustrates a very important point about pricing for art competitions and the Summer Exhibition in particular.
201510 reasons why the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 might surprise you Jun 8, 2015
Overview of the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 - and how it is different this year RECOMMENDED.

Three celebrity portraits at the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 Jun 4, 2015
This post asks some pointed questions about celebrity portraiture within the RA's Summer Exhibition 2015.

The Summer Exhibition on the BBC Jun 15, 2015

A review of the BBC coverage of the Summer Exhibition 2015 at the Royal Academy of Art.
2014Summer Exhibition 2014 at the Royal Academy of Arts Jun 4, 2014
RA Summer Exhibition 2014 - a review of the key facts and an overview of changes in 2014.

2013: 10 reasons to visit the RA Summer Exhibition 2013 Jun 10, 2013
Review of the 245th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly.

2012Review: 244th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Jun 9, 2012 .Last Friday I went to the Friends Private View of the 244th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. It has a much fresher feel this year ...

2009Exhibition review: The Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition 2009 Jun 24, 2009
I visited the Royal Academy of Art last week to see the Summer Exhibition 2009. I honestly can't recommend the exhibition this year.

2007: Innovation and tradition at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Jun 11, 2007
The 239th Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition at Burlington House opens to the public today.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for introducing me to the work of Anja Kempa and Miriam de Burca. Both beautiful. I couldn't agree more with you about Norman Ackroyd. It really is sad that so many people didn't stop to appreciate Anono Fumiaki's work. It's too bad there couldn't have been someone there to say "please take another look at this work, this is what's going on" so that people who don't "understand" could learn about it.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you. Love Norman Ackroyd's work, can't they just have all his work on display instead?;)
    The RA Summer Exhibition is always billed as the ultimate aim for amateur artists but I wonder whether it really is the best thing to do or, as has been noted, when there is such an overwhelming amount of work on display, can it become it's own worst enemy by diluting the impact of individual artworks? It's good to see lot's of sales though - was that down to works being relatively affordable or was it a mixture of affordable and investment?

  3. I've visited the Summer exhibition a number of times and I always come away inspired to enter. I am not an artist of high output in fact you could say I only paint when I'm not quilting. The point I'm trying to make is that I see so many terribly executed works that I think I could do so much better....this must be therefore self perpetuating 'bad amateur artists' to keep entering!? I would much rather be in awe of the artwork on display and not have to constantly pick my jaw up. I think I shall not visit this year, so thanks for your review, I do always read them xx


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