Monday, July 26, 2010

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2010

With more than 1200 pieces of work, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 2010 was just too big to see it all. After maybe 300 pieces I was tired and wanted to go home but at £6 for admission a second visit was not an option, so I just lingered over the works that caught my eye or that were surprising in some way.

These included Gillian Ayres's colourful Modernist-type paintings. I knew nothing of  her work before and immediately liked its freshness and her colour sensibility. Six large new vigorous paintings at the age of 80 says a lot, that's a born painter for sure. Photographs were not allowed so this tiny sketch of her biggest piece in a blank half-page of my catalogue will have to do:

The best surprise was a vast landscape by Anselm Kiefer called Einschüsse. The overall impression was of a grey, white and black landscape with strong perspective and mountains in the background, with scattered pink and red blotches like blood. There was a bench opposite the painting and I stayed there looking at it for ages. When I went to study it up close my seat was quickly taken.

In Room IX, David Hockney showed some large and beautiful photographs of trees in Yorkshire at different times of year. I have no notes on any of the other works in that room, perhaps because of exhaustion or perhaps Hockney's photos stole the show.

I liked the work of Stephen Chambers, neatly executed strange paintings and prints with a touch of humour. Others that I noted in the margins of the catalogue were Barbara Rae, Scottish contemporary abstract painter; Matthew Collings and Emma Biggs (spotted and identified from a distance); Hughie O'Donaghue (large strong abstracts); Sonia Lawson (small semi-abstract oils); Georg Baselitz (international star); an exquisite pencil drawing by Hiroe Saeki; Skein by Roderick Coyne; and an acrylic of an enlarged sketchbook page by Luciana Meazza.

Not having been to an RA Summer show before, I wasn't expecting to see so much work by the stars and this in fact made the show for me. It was a great opportunity to see some highly-rated work at first hand. Apart from these I saw only a fraction of what was there. It would have been nice to spend more time with the prints, of which there were several hundred stacked up to the ceiling, and likewise the small paintings, but after three hours I didn't have the stamina.

After the show I looked up some other reviews and could hardly find a good word said about it. So it goes with large open juried shows wherever you are in the world, they're always a mixed bag. The need for such shows is well established though, for many reasons, not least the need for a place for new artists to try their luck and get experience with serious exhibiting.

Finally, the ban on photography was in contrast to the Saatchi Gallery. Surely the publicity to be gained by photographs appearing in newspapers and on the internet  far outweighs any risk of loss from copyright infringement? Wish I could have posted a photograph of  Stephen Chambers' work up there, or any of countless others, because in this context a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

British Art Now at the Saatchi Gallery

I went to British Art Now at the Saatchi Gallery on Saturday July 17, 2010. There's something about this particular gallery that I really love –  it might be the large light well-proportioned spaces which are exceptionally inviting and pleasurable to be in. Cameras are allowed which is nice. I bought a copy of the Picture by Picture Guide which costs £1.50 and which is incredibly helpful, with b/w images and background information about each work.

The works on show are many and varied, from the large experimental oils of Alastair MacKinven who had an impressive range of work on display, to the sawn-up sculptures of Mark Pearson. Hurvin Anderson's large paintings could have been influenced in part by Peter Doig. Iain Hetherington paints a series of life-size baseball caps surrounded by abstract dabs and splashes of contrasting colour; The series, called Diversified Cultural Worker,  brought to mind Hans Hoffmann's push/pull spatial theories.

 There's a good deal of sculpture which I didn't study closely, being mainly interested in the paintings, but some of it was quite inspiring, especially the oversized work of Karla Black who chooses her media for tactile aesthetic appeal. The huge weird Nothing Is A Must (2009), made of chalked sugar paper,  was especially interesting.

Another painter whose work I liked was Phoebe Unwin. Two that stand out are Girl (2005), a strong half-length profile study in muted tones with some lovely textural painting in the girl's jumper, and Soft Person (2008), a large beautifully executed abstract in gold leaf and acrylic which reminded me of Gustav Klimt in its intricate patterning.

 Two artists hark back to the distant past in their work. Ged Quinn based his large oil paintings on landscapes by Claude Lorrain, introducing  contemporary elements into his flawless surfaces. These were really interesting to look at. The other was Pablo Bronstein who makes his original detailed architectural drawings look very old – they reminded me of Canaletto with their dead-on perspective. These are new ideas such as suggestions for the re-use of old spaces, but he frames them in actual old ornate frames, enhancing the illusion of antiquity,  As the guide says, he “dissects the lineage of ideas and ideologies, all pastiched together with a dandyish pomo flair.”   

All in all this was a wonderful and inspiring viewing experience. There was a good variety of media and styles on display and I enjoyed and learnt something from all of it.