Turning the UK’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on its Head

Paul Bailey Ceramics Art + Perception 109 2018 Editors Choice, Art + Perception Home

This summer there have been two unusual events in London. The first being extremely hot weather and the second, that a ceramic maker (the enigmatic Grayson Perry) coordinated the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA).

This year, the Royal Academy celebrates its 250th Summer Exhibition, and is firmly established as part of the national tradition of the UK. It is the world’s largest open submission contemporary show by exhibiting a range of art being made in this moment, in tune with the theme of ‘Art Made Now’. For the first time, the Summer Exhibition spreads across the new RA and spills out onto the streets of London’s West End.

Grayson Perry RA, in his role of coordinator, encouraged artists to enter work by issuing this statement:

Fellow artists! 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy, so the Summer Exhibition will celebrate a quarter of a millennia of artistic innovation. As coordinator, I have decided that the theme of the show will be ‘Art Made Now’. I want to champion the democracy of the exhibition and show off the diversity of art being made in this moment, so I encourage you to submit works that you have made in 2017/18. I am also planning a special ‘Room of Fun’ in a newly built part of the Academy, so the committee may well look favourably on artworks that we find amusing.

The response to Perry’s call has been some 20,000 submissions. After the selection committee had chosen their preferences there are a final 1,351 works on display. Together with the status in being shown, many of the works
are for sale.

What is so remarkable about the show is that it has work from established artists, members of the Royal Academy, and members of the public, unknown to anyone except their immediate circle. People working away quietly in their homes up and down the country, suddenly finding their work alongside some of the leading artists working today. And through the profile that Perry has in the media, he has helped add his voice to the steadily growing renaissance regarding the importance of ceramics.

The public know it simply as the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show, but it is important to understand that the Summer Exhibition provides a unique platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their work to an international audience.

Highlights this year include the Royal Academician Anish Kapoor’s monumental sculpture Symphony for a Beloved Daughter, in the Royal Academy’s Annenberg Courtyard.

In the Main Galleries, David Hockney RA shows two vast new works which combine photographs taken from many view-points into a single monumental image. These enormous photographic drawings, both over seven metres in length, are an exciting extension of Hockney’s long experimentation with reverse perspective and his manipulation of photography.

The Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos exhibits an enormous textile work Royal Valkyrie in the Central Hall which revisits and reinterprets palatial fashion with the colours and motifs traditionally found in Nisa, a village in Portugal. Banksy shows a new work, Vote to Love, created from a UKIP (the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party) placard and priced at £350 million. One can only guess that he doesn’t want to sell it.

Perry has had the gallery walls he is responsible for hanging painted bright yellow and they are now packed with work from floor to ceiling. The theme of colour and fun throughout the show is central to what Perry has achieved at the Summer Exhibition – including his humorous response to obvious politicking. There is a large piece of his own work in the print room titled Selfie with Political Causes that shows him riding a motorbike, with right-on slogans fluttering around him. It is his response to the way politics has become increasingly fashionable in art. In another gallery Perry has made one of his ‘statement’ large pots with images applied called, Stupid White Thing. Throughout the show there are many homages to Perry. Laina Watt has produced something not dissimilar to traditional Staffordshire ware, titled Grayson Perry Burial Urn. Another work by Kay Latto uses ceramics and other materials to produce her The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing, again featuring Perry.

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