the annual summer exhibition

by Suzanne Harb

Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy

Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy, once said; ‘a room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts’. This year over 1,200 thoughts from artists like Martin Creed and Michael Landy to unknown artists grace the walls of the main galleries of the Royal Academy. Having had to whittle down the 12,000 digital submissions would have been a Goliath task. However what remains is a look into the various disciplines that represent contemporary art today. 

Now, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition often get’s some stick from esteemed critics from the larger publications and across the board reviews are varied. What is interesting is how much discourse this annual exhibition (now in it’s 245th year) can encourage. With all those who attended making their own personal assessments as to which deserve to be labeled the good, the bad and the ugly. It is for this reason along that I love it! Due to the nature of the exhibition, it attracts such a varied audience thus opening up channels of communication between people and uniting them through their discussion of art. 

Providing a dissection of what is happening in contemporary art right now the Royal Academy is by the artists and for the artists. This is an incredibly powerful approach as it means no boundaries are put up in relation to prestige, style and approach. A plethora of current topics are tackled, it is almost like thumbing through the pages of a world new paper. Interestingly a piece titled FGM by Angela Braven is an example of how art continuously shines its light on contemporary issues. Depicting the horrors of Female Gentile Mutilation, and highlighting the ever widening divide in opinion regarding the matter, the inclusion of works such as this is vital as it highlights art fearlessness to tackle such issues head on.

What was in 1769, an exhibition open to the public was a pioneering and exciting, a notion that we take for granted in 2014. However the rooms curated in that traditional salon style are a means of acknowledging the exhibitions 18th century roots (and a technique very much needed to showcase the sheer volume of works). Gus Cummins RA was responsible for the curation of the Small Weston Room as well as room VII. Hung densely from floor to ceiling in a complex grid, works are clustered together as to produce some unexpected dialog among themselves, interesting juxtapositions and placements revealing more of a narrative.

Cornelia Parker RA has curated the Lecture Room. She has invited many high profile artists and Royal Academicians to contribute works in keeping with her black and white theme. With many artists creating new works especially for this space, she has created an exciting and dynamic cohesion of works. This room is playful yet sleek and provides a break from the busy rooms that preceded it.

While there is a great deal to take in, one drawback of the exhibition is that it is lacking in its representation of the more unusual artistic mediums. With a large percentage of the 1,262 pieces being taken up by paintings, and while sculpture does indeed stand out against the painted sea of works, we have yet to see the inclusion of performance art. In addition to this there is very little video and not near enough sculpture to be representative of the vast and varied approached to art today. While this is an important observation, I do not want it do detract form the wonderful experience it is walking through a room engulfed by art. Wondering and meandering through peoples thoughts is something very special. While you may not love everything on display the chances are you will find something that moves or amuses you. 


Further Readings -
Review: "The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: The anarchy and ecstasy returns" by Zoe Pilger for the Independent, 02.06.2014
Review: "Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, review: 'not so much old or new as exhausting" by Mark Hudson for the Telegraph, 06.06.2014
Review: "RA's Summer Exhibition: A sprawling exhibition of varying quality" by Will Gompertz for BBC Arts, 04.06.2014
Review: "First Look: the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition" by Ben Luke for the Evening Standard, 02.06.2014

photos without cameras

Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography
V&A Museum

Technology changes the face of our world, and it only accelerates in the post-millennium world we all live in. What's new today would be out in a matters of months or even weeks. New techniques and media emerge all the time which bring artists countless possibilities to explore & re-invent their works.

Since the arrival of digital cameras, film cameras and polaroids have fallen into victims of the 'fastfood' generation - everything has to be fast, instant and hassle-free. It doesn't need to be perfect, but it has to be seen. It is the Zeitgeist. So do you remember how people capture what they see before cameras exist?

Well, you may say paintings. Yes, you know it because there's a National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square. But there is something between paintings and photos from cameras - well technically photos can only be taken by cameras, is it? Not really...

The Night Cell (2010) by Garry Fabian Miller 
© Garry Fabian Miller / Courtesy of Hackel Bury Fine Art London

Given a light sensitive surface, which is what a photo paper really is, photography - capturing objects from 3D to 2D - can be done without an actual piece of camera. It is not a new technique, but most people probably don't think it is practised any more nowadays, not to mention having an exhibition. V&A Musuem has devoted its prime exhibition space right next to its main entrance to this show, to recall people's memory of how wonderful and admirable this technique is.

Chemigram 25/1/66 V (1966) by Pierre Cordier
© Pierre Cordier

The show features works of 5 contemporary artists (they're not called 'photographers' in the official publications) - Garry Fabian Miller, Pierre Cordier, Adam Fuss, Floris Neusüss and Susan Derges. Although they all make photos without a camera, their photos look very different from each other's.

Invocation (1992) by Adam Fuss
© Courtesy of Adam Fuss / V&A Images

These photos cannot give you the HD crystal clear view of the subjects like the snapshots on your iphone, but they give you more by showing less - just as what Mies van der Rode said. The viewers are free to interpret what the photos are about, what the artist is trying to capture, and what exactly has been captured. It is a process which you cannot accelerate - you would need to spend time looking at each of them, instead of flipping them through your finger on the ipad screen.

Körperfotogramm (1962) by Floris Neusüss
© Courtesy of Floris Neusüss

The museum has prepared a short clip for each artist (as embedded in this post) to provide more background to the viewers how they create each photograph and why they would do it in his/her own way. It is like magicians revealing the secret - you can see how these beautiful images are made. And perhaps you will be inspired after seeing the show.

Arch 4 (summer) (2008) by Susan Derges
© Courtesy of Susan Derges / V&A images

Location -

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Further Readings -

Page: Official page of the exhibition in V&A's website

Page: Interview with Floris Neusüss by Lucy Davies for the Telegraph, 08.10.2010
Page: "Pigment, Light and Film" on Garry Fabian Miller by the Stride Magazine, 02.2007
Page: Artist's profile of Adam Fuss at Timothy Taylor Gallery's website
Page: Interview with Susan Derges by Andrew Pulver for the Guardian, 20.10.2010
Page: Official site of Susan Derges
Page: Official site of Pierre Cordier