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250th Summer Exhibition, RA - Last days

It's the last few days of this year’s Summer Exhibition, and those of you who were going to see it, probably already have. So why am I writing about it? Because I was lucky enough to be taken on a private guided tour by one of the committee members, RA artist David Mach. David took our group around a wonderfully deserted exhibition, before opening times, and talked about the selection process, and the hard work entailed in putting this show together. This year’s exhibition was curated by Grayson Perry and his team of about ten Royal Academicians, who selected and hung the work. The team looked at the 12,000 digital entries received, making a first selection of about three thousand. Going through 12,000 images to choose around thirty per cent requires a lot of effort and concentration, but then the originals arrive and the team has to look at them before they get hung, i.e., pretty much lying on the floor, or stacked against the walls. At the conclusion of the final selection process, they ended up with 1300 pieces to hang in eleven exhibition rooms, each pretty much curated by a single member of the committee, except for Grayson Perry who curated and co-curated four.

The committee members have to choose, barter, and sometimes fight over the pieces that they want to exhibit in their room. There are very few restrictions on how you curate your room, one of which is to try and hang the work of fellow Academicians at eye level. Apart from that, each member of the team can choose the amount of works to hang, even just one piece if they want to. But to have a good show, a lot of collaboration and amenability is needed – a challenge, perhaps, for artists, who usually work on their own, and often do not spend much time looking at the works of other artists. Altogether, the team is conscious of the need for an overall consistency and balance of the whole exhibition, including the run of rooms, in terms of colour coordination and where the artworks are positioned. The colourful vision of Grayson Perry’s has definitely influenced each aspect of this Summer Exhibition. In Gallery III, curated by Perry and aptly painted bright yellow, there are stacks of artworks, from floor to ceiling, happy works, political ones, skilled and folkish, a real riot, but it sets an uplifting, playful, tone to the rooms that follow. By the way, the room curated by Paul Mach is Room V, and its silver walls were commissioned by him to his brother. The Summer Exhibition requires a lot of hard work from the organisers, but also from the visitors, there is so much to see, from major artists, by the likes of Anish Kapoor, David Hockney, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mike Nelson, Tracey Emin, to totally unknown ones. Although there is plenty online to prepare the visitor, from documentaries, to reviews, to the RA website itself, once inside, we are pretty much left with the bare catalogue, that states the name of the artist, the title of the artwork, and the price. It’s up to us to interpret the pieces and to understand why they have been selected and hung in a specific place. Ultimately, this is what makes the Summer Exhibition so special and full of surprises, summer after summer.

First published on the East Finchley Open Artists August 2018 Newsletter - Click HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

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