It is June and the start of the London summer season with the Royal Academy Summer Show. As usual, the walls of the Royal Academy are awash with paintings, drawings, photographs and other works, set off by sculptures in the centre of the rooms. Many of the artists you would expect are here, such as Gilbert and George, recently enobled as a member elect of the Academy, Yinka Shonibare who thankfully has many works on display, and Alselm Kiefer. Some are under-represented such as David Hockney – perhaps it was felt that the recent Tate Britain exhibition had given him enough exposure, or perhaps there was a wish to support new and emerging artists.
It’s always a difficult exhibition, but this year there is a feeling that curatorship has been squeezed out by sheer number of works on display (and for sale). The architecture room in particular is a great disappointment, potentially one of the best areas for 3-D models, a few unworthy examples have been thrown into the corners. A real opportunity for engagement of the future of architecture, especially after recent events, has been missed by the strategy of squeezing in as many works in paper as possible.
The best political works are by Bob and Roberta Smith, “Art Makes Children Powerful” and “All Schools should be Art Schools”, a reflection on the current government’s apparent lack of understanding of the importance of art and design education and of the art, architecture and design professions to the UK economy as it goes into start the Brexit negotiation. Perhaps with the result of the recent ill-conceived election, it may have started to realise the importance. Let’s hope so.
As we go headlong into the Brexit negotiations, there was a real imperative for this to be the best Summer Exhibition ever, to reinforce the imagination, innovation and importance of art within the UK and in Europe. On that count, I’m not sure that this delivers the goods.