The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Have you visited the Summer Exhibition this year? There are worse things you could do. The annual exhibition at The Royal Academy of Art is always an eclectic mix, as it has an open submission, so the great and famous are displayed next to Aunty Mabel—assuming Aunty Mabel has caught the eye of whoever is this year’s coordinator. This year, Grayson Perry was in charge (he’s the man who resembles a pantomime dame) and, like his dress sense, the exhibition is flamboyant and unexpected. With over a thousand works of art on show, it’s impossible to even notice them individually, never mind trying to assess each one. They range from the completely brilliant, to the absolute rubbish (in my opinion). But overall, the impression is one of colour and fun and strong political statement. This year’s show feels very contemporary, and I for one enjoyed it.

Much of the art, I really do not understand. When I got home, I tried to find online reviews of individual pieces, or at least explanations, but there weren’t any. Perhaps there are too many for the critics to cope with. I will therefore share with you my own highlights and lowlights of the exhibition. I am not an artist, so I expect I missed the point on some of them. However, as art is subjective, I will go ahead and give you my brutally honest review.

 When you first arrive, you’re greeted by this stupendous piece of haberdashery. It is huge, and for anyone who has ever sewn anything and agonised over straight seams, it epitomises skill. It is knitted and sewn and embroidered. I have absolutely no idea what it is meant to signify, or what will happen to it after the exhibition (it will be a nightmare to dust) but I loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 The next gallery is painted bright yellow. This made the room very exciting, even if you didn’t like the art. In fact, I would say that this year, all the galleries could be viewed as a whole—you walked in, and thought “brilliant” or “terrible”, without needing to examine the individual works. Some were displayed so high that you couldn’t see them anyway (unless you happen to have a stepladder in your handbag).

This particular photograph made me laugh. I assume the model is the artist’s mother. No one else would be prepared to dress up as a compost heap. She doesn’t look especially pleased. Hopefully she’s proud of him now.

 

 This gallery also had a picture by Banksy, with the ‘Vote Leave’ slogan changed by a heart shaped balloon to ‘Vote Love’. It was for sale at the price of £350 million (bit sarcy).

There was also a large portrait of Nigel Farage. Above it was a portrait of a man being sick. Which I’m sure was a coincidence.

The picture on the left was simply a nice picture—one of the few on display that you might actually choose to hang in your own house. It was wonderfully chocolate-box, and little children could write whole stories about it.

 

 Talking of stories, this should definitely be used for the cover of a book.It had some wonderfully clever imagery, with people of different heights, and all sorts of political messages.

 

 

 

 

 

 Here’s one for my Aunty Margaret. Not sure she’s ever knitted/crocheted anything quite like this. Something to aspire to perhaps. Or perhaps not. It wasn’t something you really wanted to look at for long.

 

 

 

 

 This one was by Harry Hill, who apparently used to be a medic. I didn’t like it. But I guess someone did. It reminded me of the game: ‘Operation’ which we used to play when I was a child. (I didn’t like that much, either.)

 

 

 

 

 

 I have no idea why anyone thought this head was worth displaying. If it had been in a primary school art room, it might have been considered good. But not here. And not at that price. 

 

 

 

 This was brilliant. Completely brilliant. It is made from broken egg shells. Wow. Glad I wasn’t responsible for transporting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The carpet bear was another favourite. Though again, I imagine the artist’s mother was somewhat cross when she came home and saw what he’d done to her best rug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On the topic of broken things and mothers, next time you break a tea-cup, here’s what you should do with it. A brilliant way to avert anger. It wasn’t until I spotted the handle that I realised it had once been a cup.

 

 

 

 

 This was a great picture that was spoilt by the terrible lighting in the gallery. I’m not sure why we needed lights on anyway, as the sun was bright enough. Several works were very hard to see. Maybe the exhibition is best visited after dark. Or on cloudy days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This one would be impossible to spoil. It was an upturned television and a block of concrete. Why? No idea. My best guess is that it was put out for the bin men and someone took it to the academy by mistake. It said nothing to me, and was ugly. (Sorry if it was your child who created it.)

 

 

 

 

 This was a display of carved soap. There wasn’t a scent (it just smelt of the pine display rack). Very clever. The soap is prison soap. We had trouble stopping the man next to us from touching it, but I did know what he meant. There was something about it that made you want to touch it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This was a chair, with the seat the wrong way up. All I can think is that someone ordered something from IKEA, lost the assembly instructions, and then was too embarrassed to admit they’d messed it up, so entered it to the academy instead. Not something I needed to see.

 

 

 

 

 I don’t even know what to write about this one. It was sort of hidden behind a display cabinet. Were the workmen having a laugh? Really?

 

 

 

 

 

 This was my favourite. Unicorns, galloping through a forest, all made from twisted wires. It was beautiful, a whole story.

 

 

 

 

 

 You have to see this one in real life really, as the details are too small. It was very contemporary, with lots of references to politicians and modern life. There was so much to see, it was very skilful, very intelligent, a visual feast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 As an author, I had to include this one. A finely balanced work of art, which said that we need books to be balanced (at least, that’s what it said to me!) Excellent.

 

 

Thank you for looking at the art with me. Try to find time to pop to London to see the exhibition for yourself. It’s there until the end of August.

 

Have a good week, and don’t melt.

Love,
Anne x

Thank you for reading anneethompson.com

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Picasso

Letter to a Daughter

Dear Bee,

How are you? I hope work is fun but you’re getting home at a decent time. So awful at the moment with no sun and dingy mornings, I am ready for Spring to arrive.

I thought about you yesterday. Partly because I was in London (I waved from the train when we passed near your flat. Got strange looks from everyone else in the carriage and the man sitting next to me moved to another seat.) The other reason was because I was going to a Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It reminded me of when I used to take you there when you were little.

We had a lecture first. There was a lot of information (too much to remember actually, but it wasn’t too warm, so I stayed awake.) The lecturer was very good, she obviously knew her stuff, and explained it nice and simply. I think Picasso can be summed up in three words: seedy, witty, clever. But I’ll give you a quick over view of his life, it might be useful if ever you have to look knowledgeable.

img_5544He was born in Malaga (I’m sure you remember this, from our holiday there when you were about 4 years old…) His father was an artist (painted mainly birds it seems – pigeons and doves – very realistically.) Picasso started to copy his father, and when he was just twelve he finished one of his Dad’s paintings and was told it was better than his father’s. We saw a self-portrait he did when he was 13 (to be honest, he did a LOT of self-portraits. Says something about the man, I think.) He was at an art college in Barcelona, and his work was pretty good actually. None of the weird stuff that appeared later.

When he was older, he lived in Paris, and was there during the war (when he used lots of dingy colours and contorted faces to show the unrest/cruelty of the times.) He tried out lots of different styles, copying other artists. There was a bit of cubism (painting weird geometric shapes across the canvas), things like that. He doodled a lot, and drew caricatures of his friends and family. He always refused to take commissions for ‘classical’ portraits, when the model is flattered and surrounded by lots of emblems to show their status. He wanted to paint their personality, their mood. Many of his portraits, even though the subject sat for many hours when posing, are barely even recognisable as human. (I expect some of them were rather cross.) However, lots of his work was given to friends, rather than for exhibition. These pieces tended to be smaller, and more realistic. I preferred them.

I was interested by his realistic portraits. He was undoubtedly talented. I don’t really like his later stuff at all – all those eyes at weird angles and mouths and noses not in sync. However, one thing was interesting. We were shown a cubist painting (which just looked a mess of shapes with a random eye plonked to one side) and were told to ‘fuzz’ our eyes. I took off my glasses (fuzzes the whole world!) and the portrait looked completely different – you could see the man, how he was sitting, holding his hands in front of him. That was clever.

I also went to the gift shop, while waiting for the people who I was having lunch with (who were all rather more interested in the paintings than I was). I managed to avoid the £800 etchings and £52 tray, and even the rather natty ‘Picasso’ tee-shirt and beret set. I was tempted by one of the books though. It was a children’s book, and I wished you were young again, so I could buy it for you. It was written about a little boy’s experiences, when Picasso visited him in England. It showed a glimpse of the man, the child-like, creative, story-telling old man, who was happy to make curiosities for a little boy. There was also a painting of the boy’s mother – all skew-wiffy, with nose and mouth and eyes in different directions. But when you compared it to a photograph of the mother, and drew a line around her profile, what Picasso had painted has exactly the same edge. Which is also clever.

But you’re not little any more, so I didn’t buy you a copy. I bought some postcards instead.
Better go. Try and pop down when you get time. Eat properly.

Lots of Love,
Mum xx

img_5545 Portrait of his first wife, Olga (he had a lots of women, but only married two of them.) This one won a prize in the US (where Picasso never visited, but a friend entered it for him.) I like this painting (it’s less fuzzy in real life). She does look fed up in all of them though, so I think being painted must be boring. She was a Russian ballet dancer, so probs didn’t much like having to keep still for long periods of time.