Spooky alien creatures made from a variety of strange materials announce your arrival in the Courtyard for this year’s Summer Show at the Royal Academy. Los-Angeles based British-born artist Thomas Houseago has surrounded Joshua Reynolds with his jagged, sinister figures’ watching your every movement as you arrive and walk through the courtyard.
Inside, you will, after a while, be surprised to find that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, having just met in North Korea are here together, but in playful and sportsman-like mode.
It is summer and the Royal Academy galleries are filled up to their elegant coved ceilings with around 1500 works of art, coordinated by the Scottish-born painter Jock McFadyen, who now lives in England. With Houseago and McFadyen, we already have two artists who are living and working in different countries to where they were born, so it is no surprise to find Jeremy Deller’s banner ‘We are all Immigrant Scum ‘ flying in one of the galleries. The theme of immigration starts with Banksy’s installation ‘Keep Out’ – a commentary on modern Britain -, facing a sea of animals in the Wohl Central Hall, which spread out into other galleries, as artists address modern issues such as overfishing, extinction, survival, mistreatment and threats to the natural environment, leaving a question about why in England people often (but not always) care more for animals more than they care for people. As ever, Anselm Kiefer makes you stop and think with his ‘Desolate Wasteland’, while Tim Shaw’s ‘Parliament of Crow’ raises all sorts of questions, including what is the link between these crows and what is going on in a building called Parliament, as does Nicola Hick’s ‘Bear from Dump Circus’.
Thereafter the art flows through the galleries, with around 1500 pieces on show from a panoply of artists, including Marcus Harvey, Tracey Emin, Paula Rego, Marc Wallinger, Woolfgang Tilmans, Anselm Kiefer, Thomas Schutte and Michael Craig Martin. It is notable that some of the ‘big-hitters’ are absent, such as Julian Opie and David Hockney. Perhaps they are no longer affordable for visitors to the Summer Show, but it does leave room for new talent to shine.
There are other themes flowing subtly through the galleries. One is on modern urban life and the heritage of modern Brutalist buildings, quite independent of the Architecture Room, and often not positive, as in Mandy Paine’s ‘No Parking’ and ‘Priced Out’, Luke M Walker’s ‘The Gates to the City’ with images of a derelict and ruined Barbican, Liam Leslie’s ‘Remains of Social Housing Block, Stockwell’, which had been demolished, Robin Friend’s jarring ‘Tower Blocks, East Reservoir, Bastard Countryside’ and David Hepher’s graffiti- painted ‘Hey Wayne on the Meath Estate’.
Two of the most intriguing works are Emily Allchurch’s ‘Babel Babylon (after Verhaecht)’ bringing together dozens of recognisable buildings and structures from cities such as Edinburgh and Bristol into a modern Tower of Babel, and Claire Douglass’s immense ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, with a huge panorama of people and activities, including Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un together here in London. This is a painting that. like Hieronymus Bosch’s work of the same name pained between 1490 and 1510, demands a great deal of time to explore.
I, as always, enjoy the sculptures, including John Davies’ ‘My Ghosts’ which you glimpse as you enter into the Wohl, but have to wait to see in detail, Hew Lock’s ‘Gravesend’, a smaller version of his much larger installation which is one of the highlights of the Perez Art Museum in Miami, and Mimmo Paladino’s bronze sculpture
There is almost too much to see in one visit….another one will be required to enjoy the art again, while acknowledging that if you wait too long the best and most affordable works will have been sold – indeed there are already many red dots, so you have better move quickly!