There can’t be many, if any, art events on the scale of the Summer Exhibition which are still going strong after 250 years. With such a momentous anniversary and with its redevelopment project completed, the Royal Academy had to pull out all the stops this year so, who better to ask to coordinate it than Grayson Perry who also curated Room III choosing to decorate it in bright yellow: – using colour in that room has now become something of a tradition.
The Show starts with a huge red disk - Anish Kapoor’s ‘Symphony for a Beloved Daughter’ – in the courtyard, followed by another immense work, Joana Vasconcelos’ ‘Royal Valkyrie’ filling the entrance to the Exhibition in the Wohl Central Hall.
The display of a vast amount and variety of art continues from there, with new work by artists, professional and amateur, including David Hockney, Michael Craig-Martin, Tracy Emin and David Mach filling the main galleries, the Sackler Wing and, a more experimental space in one of the new spaces, the McAulay Gallery. While Grayson Perry coordinated the Exhibition, there are surprisingly few of his works, though a few have been selected by other artists curating individual rooms and the McAulay Gallery includes work by other artists playfully paying homage to Perry and his work.
It is the large and selected pieces that make the exhibition; look beyond them and the work for sale is very much as in previous years, while some of the more interesting and popular works have political connotations, including by Banksy and Grayson Perry himself. Brexit was there and, if you wanted, you could acquire frightening portraits of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg. I don’t know if Teresa May was there as I didn’t spot any portraits, but American and Korean politics had slipped in with Richard Wilson coming up with a subtle response to the competition for the wall between Mexico and the USA and David Axtell’s ‘The Inspection’ with Kim Jong In and Kim Jong Il admiring Lady Gaga’s homage to Duchamp’s Urinal. What, one wonders, did they think of it?
The Architecture Room returned to its prime central location, full of models, drawings and photographs of projects real and imaginary, curated by Piers Gough, confirming what a loss to the architectural world the death of Will Alsop was. He had a unique creative imagination which bridged art and architecture.
For regular visitors to the Exhibition, it was initially perplexing to find some of the rooms on the main floor closed off, having been used for the Summer Exhibition for as long as you can remember. All became clear when visiting the parallel exhibition ‘The Great Spectacle’, a fascinating canter through the 250 years of the Summer exhibition with work from the earliest days until 2018 – in effect a quick review of the twists and turns of British art over the last 250 years, and also highlighting the flexibility of the gallery spaces in the main building that enable them to be used in a variety of different ways.