Published: 16 June, 2011
by JOHN EVANS
IT’S a pity Cathy de Monchaux’s battle scene depicting an epic “Ucello-style” fight between beaked monsters riding unicorns isn’t more photogenic.
You really have to see close up this work from the London-based artist to marvel at its complexity. The term mixed media doesn’t do it justice, with its span of well over a metre comprising “elastoplast, copper wire, brass , beads, feathers, silk, paint and glass.”
Of course, at £25,000, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea or favourite in this show.
Welcome to the 243rd Summer Exhibition of the RA, repository of hopes, fears, and much invective, notably of the “I know what I like” variety.
And you will find something. This year more than 12,000 entries were received from 27 countries and Monchaux’s work, entitled Sweetly The Air Flew Overhead, Battle With Unicorns No 9, provides a clue as to the problem this poses.
For, though there are slightly fewer works than last year in what remains the world’s largest open, contemporary, art exhibition, main show co-ordinator Royal Academician Christopher Le Brun likened the task of hanging in the vast space of Gallery III to: “…a battle of the paintings”, with 40 or so on one wall alone.
As well as larger works, such as former Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson’s red, 4metre, “apocalyptic” Deep Impact (mixed media on aluminium) and Le Brun’s own paintings Rise and Trust, here there are also delicate and poignant oils by Ben Levene RA, who died in September aged 71.
The historic mix is there, too, with outside contributors’ works side-by-side with those of members. London is particularly well represented among the 1,100-plus pieces accepted this year and, with the show’s List of Works, visitors can check out all successful entries.
So contemporary is the exhibition that visitors also can check out anything from Gaddafi’s Tent to Self-Portrait After Ryan Giggs, depending on their interests.
Architects and photographers are given dedicated galleries and, for 2011, a selection of Academicians, the choice of Michael Craig-Martin, and including Antony Gormley, Michael Landy, Gary Hume, Cornelia Parker, Alison Wilding, Fiona Rae and Tracey Emin have a “room of their own”.
Nearby Senior Academician Hampstead-based sculptor Sir Anthony Caro exhibits charcoal and pencil drawings and an exquisite small bronze called Cubic Piece ‘Bassoon’. There are also powerful drawings by sculptor William Tucker nearby.
Most works are for sale and money raised helps to fund the RA Schools, which do not charge students fees. “The last bastion of free education,” as one member put it… and, of course, some students’ works are available.
The opening of the 2011 Summer Exhibition was marked not only by American Jeff Koons’s magical Coloring Book, in the courtyard, a reflection of society’s “obsession with infantilism and youth” inspired by a drawing of Pooh’s friend Piglet but also by the garlanded statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds nearby.
• The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2011, at Burlington House, Piccadilly until August 15. £10, concessions available. Booking
0844 209 0051, www.royalacademy.org.uk