21 June 2018
250th Summer Exhibition
The Royal Academy (12 June – 19 August)
By William Morton
20,000 works were submitted for inclusion in the Exhibition; around 1,350 were accepted. The job of selection was accordingly formidable. This year the coordinator of the hanging committee was Grayson Perry who has produced an entertaining exhibition as you would expect of such a showperson. This is exemplified by the catalogue cover which is a picture of an exhibit called Closing Down Sale consisting of a shopping trolley filled with junk and a sign saying ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ and accompanied by an audio tape of a market trader’s patter, emphasising that nearly all the works on show are for sale.
One of the nice things about the Summer Exhibition is that it mixes works by well-established artists with those of the lesser-known and fun and wacky items. Starting with the famous, one is greeted in the courtyard of the Academy by a massive sculpture by Anish Kapoor, bafflingly called Symphony for a Beloved Daughter 2018 and consisting of a large red disc suspended over a pile of large rocks. There are two large works produced by David Hockney, using his photographic techniques, of a studio-like room. The same portraits appear within both but in different positions and one person is shown with her back to the viewer in one and front-facing in the other. Royal Valkyrie, a large hanging fabric construction by Joana Vasconcelos, is somewhat reminiscent of the decoration of an old-style Turkish restaurant. An intriguing pair of large wooden sculptures, Lost in Thoughts by Sir Tony Cragg, looks like the roots of trees entwined together. A series of large prints, Tools in a Puzzled Vessel (One-Eight) by the American, Jim Dine (an Honorary RA), are of spanners, brushes and saws, which make up, when seen at a distance, a distinct human face.
Perry himself was responsible for the hanging of one room and this is packed with an eclectic mix ranging from a portrait of Nigel Farage to a picture of two girls eating spaghetti which is next to two Constable-like rural scenes. There are competent Italian scenes by Ken Howard and a large portrait of the artist himself. A portrait of a sombre black girl is adjacent to a sinister work called William Joyce and Friends, presumably referring to Lord Haw-Haw. Although all the items listed do indeed appear in Botticelli does Glasto, Toothbrush, Condom, Lighter and Packet of Mints, the work is not particularly appealing.
Fun works include a clothed Donald Trump wearing a Miss Mexico sash parting the legs of a naked girl and looking surprised at what he finds; Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un inspecting a urinal inscribed by Lady Gaga (her uplifting message apparently being ‘I am not fucking Duchamp. But I love pissing with you’), Van Gogh’s Dr Gachet having a drink in the pub with the Queen and the Pope, Jeremy Corbyn in a crashed meccano car done in the style of a sea-side postcard under the title Good Morning, Mr Corbyn – How are the Speed Trials Going?
Moving on to the wacky, there is a three-dimensional bear protruding through a carpet. In a video about the Exhibition, Grayson Perry says that he knew it had to be in the show as soon as he saw it but there is perhaps not a lot to it once the joke has been got. Gnasher is a suitably fierce wooden dog studded with nails. Self Portrait of the Artist as a Book is a series of prints of the back of a naked woman stamped with an ISBN number. Then there is a paperback (‘What happened in History’) suspended in a glass water jug from the ceiling. A collection of prison issue bars of soap have appropriate messages carved in them such as ‘Dirty Protest’ and ‘Hooch and Spice’.
Amid the zaniness, there is a solid under-pinning of interesting and appealing works such as Fortitude, a portrait of a woman presumably suffering from cancer, the realistic Village Dog, the striking minimalist The Garden of Venus picture of a naked girl leaning against a tree and Le Village Hollandais showing tiny houses under an enormous sky.
Altogether, a thoroughly enjoyable show.