Leonard McComb’s polished bronze Portrait of a Young Man Standing
Published: 14 June, 2012
by JOHN EVANS
TO declare a prejudice from the outset, the artwork Chicken Chair by Olu Shobowale, two metres high and constructed from chicken bones, does not appeal to me.
At the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, at least you know what you will get. Something that is good in parts but which will include works that question your own tastes right down to the marrow and, without doubt, provoke a reaction.
One prominent critic has written of the 2012 show: “The Academy should set standards, not abuse them.”
What that sort of view ignores is the history of an event, now in its 244th year, which is the largest open-submission contemporary show in the world.
The Academy’s “judges” have chosen 1,474 works from an entry of more than 11,000 with most available to purchase.
“All those who support the Summer Exhibition contribute to supporting artists of the future”, the RA says.
This year’s show co-ordinator is Tess Jaray, Academician, long-term Camden resident and for 30 years a teacher at the Slade School.
She said the aim had been to encourage participation by the younger generation in addition to established artists and, secondly, to attract smaller-scale works.
She said: “I think young artists have achieved a kind of artistic freedom…” and they had been liberated from thinking they must work in particular ways.
On the selection of exhibits, she added that there was no importance attached to whether a piece was abstract or figurative: “It’s all the same thing,” she said, “It’s quality, not to do with style.”
She was particularly pleased, too, that the exhibition had attracted five works from Afghanistan artists. These include a haunting digital print by Aman Mojadidi Dressing for Work (From ‘A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster’ series), where the most noticeable items of dress referred to are two handguns, one tucked into the fighter’s waistband, the other gold-plated and hanging as bling from a heavy chain about his neck.
Gallery III, the grandest space, is given over to the smaller-scale.
More spectacular, perhaps is the Central Hall with works chosen for vibrancy of colour in “homage to Matisse’s The Red Studio”.
Its centrepiece is Academician Leonard McComb’s polished bronze (pictured above) Portrait of a Young Man Standing (edition of 10 at £600,000 each).
Works also featured here include acrylics by the late John Hoyland, one of three RAs to have died in the past year, the others being Adrian Berg and Leonard Rosoman.
Small-scale is also the focus for much of the sculpture – with the exception of Chris Wilkinson’s giant installation for the main courtyard, From Landscape to Portrait, 11 twisting wooden frames which even offer some seating for visitors.
Sir Anthony Caro and William Tucker also exhibit drawings in addition to sculptures.
Returning to the questions of variety and quality, there really is an opportunity offered at this exhibition.
A watercolour miniature, Young Girl, a delicate portrait by Michael Coe and his only piece in the show, could be purchased for £850. Some etchings were priced at under £100.
Or, going up the scale somewhat, Tracey Emin’s acrylic Upset was on offer at £165,000; Martin Creed’s flashing green neon Work No. 623 (comprising the word dogs in illuminated capital letters 15cm high) at £66,000, three available; and Michael Craig-Martin’s acrylic on aluminium Desk Chair at a round £100,000.
So, something for everyone…
• The Summer Exhibition 2012, sponsored by Insight Investment, is at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1, until August 12. Admission £10, concessions available, 020 7300 8000, www.royalacademy.org.uk