The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is by anyone’s measure the principle art event of the capital’s sultry dog days. Its pedigree is unquestionable, now in its 243rd year, the Exhibition is the largest open contemporary art show in the world, which has acted, over the years, as a launch pad for many a lusty British art career, including those of J W Turner and more recently Chantal Joffe.
This year, the Academy’s long tradition of displaying a wide range of work by both new and established artists continues, under the direction of guest co-ordinators Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig Martin. There will be no overriding theme for the Exhibition in 2011, unlike previous years, instead says Le Brun, there will be an attempt to “dramatize and make use of the huge differences in approach and tradition,” that can be found within the Academy walls.
In room three, the grandest of all the exhibition spaces, there will be a modern version of the salon hang, which will see the walls in the historic room covered from picture rail downwards in work. The third gallery will feature “dark walls, with work hung in rich profusion from floor to ceiling,” says Christopher. In contrast, the second largest room in the Academy, the Lecture Room, will be curated solely by Michael Craig Martin, famous for his 1973 iconic conceptual piece of art work “An Oak Tree” and will contain work by artists inducted into the Royal Academy only. This gallery will be lighter in nature than the third room, sparser, and will be arranged in classic contemporary style.
The layout of the exhibition will also be very different this year. Visitors will enter first into the Central Octagon Hall, which will display photography for the first time, before progressing onto sculpture, a display curated by Piers Gough and Alan Stanton and then moving onto the bigger rooms.
The Exhibition is of course open to entries from anyone, not just Royal Academicians, which makes sifting through nearly 12,000 submitted entries an engrossing and time consuming task for the organisers. “It’s not that the choosing process is difficult,” says Le Brun, “it’s more that it needs care, attending to one’s intuitions for hour upon hour.” Instead of a theme, this year the tone of the Exhibition will be set by the choice of work on display and their collective feel and tone. “I particularly didn’t want a theme this year, I sometimes find them unnecessary and too general to be relevant,” adds Christopher. “We just want the best work.”
Of the 11,000 submitted pieces for consideration, the majority of works chosen and featured in the final Exhibition line-up will be available for sale, as in any other gallery up and down the country, giving visitors the opportunity to purchase art work from up and coming artists, and giving creatives an unrivalled opportunity for sales. As well as the chosen work, there will also be a salute to the creations of Ben Levene (1938-2010) this year’s memorial artist. Levene exhibited in every exhibition at Burlington House from 1974 until his death last year and was considered to be an artist on the cutting edge of his craft. A small selection of his work will feature on the walls of the Academy this year in tribute to his life.
“There are some really fine things to look out for this year,” says Le Brun, including a “huge war memorial,” which will be created by James Butler for the Academy Courtyard,this will be presented alongside a “big new Jeff Koons colouring book sculpture.” Visitors should also expect to see a “magnificent large painting” by distinguished Danish painter Per Kirkeby, for the west wall of the third gallery. A major work by Mimmo Paladino, the Italian born sculptor, painter, print maker and creator of the excellent bronze 1986 sculpture “Il rumore della notte” or “The Sound of the Night”, will also be featured. As well as equally major pieces by Keith Tyson and Anselm Kiefer. “Quieter works,” says Christopher, “will be provided by Celia Paul, Mick Moon, James Hugonin and Edmund De Waal, who are all on top form.” Photography will also play a large part in the Exhibition with Cindy Sherman, Darren Almond and Gary Fabian Miller all providing strong signature pieces this year.
As for unknown artists we will have to wait and see if this year’s exhibition will yield a sizable crop of new talent, the Academy hangs and chooses pieces by work not name, “I don’t yet know who they are,” says Le Brun teasingly. Nevertheless, if a new artist succeeds in standing out from the crowd on the walls of one of the toughest rooms in the art world, then you can be sure their name will not remain a mystery for too much longer.
The 2011 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition will run from the 7th of June untill the 15th of August at Burlington House, London.