The Royal Academy Exhibition 2015

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Want to see some incredible art? Go to the annual summer exhibition at London’s Royal Academy. There you will see some soul-shifting, mind-bending, material-pushing art that will have you dreaming about your own ideas for days after.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts provides the perfect platform for emerging artists, as well as old guard creators, to strut their stuff. Hung salon style, the effect is much like the delight one gets from sorting through piles of old things at a sale and finding a treasure. Only there are many many treasures here.

As you enter the building, you can’t help but delight in Jim Lambie’s chromatic vision of a staircase (photo above). Like ascending to heaven on puddles of paint, it’s ok to smile with delight as you ascend to the galleries on the second floor.

Just in case you thought the esteemed Royal Academy was stuffy, they’ve gone and painted their galleries orchid pink and caribbean blue to enhance the works stacked on the walls.

Gallery III beckons
Gallery III beckons

At the top of the stairs is the Wohl Central Hall, a room by which you can orient yourself throughout the show. Planted in the center is Matthew Darbyshire’s Doryphous, a statue that puts Polykleitos’ canon on its head. While elegant and idealized and exhibiting the requisite contrapposto, Darbyshire’s standing man appears to dissolve before you in a haze of translucent color. A statue, so based in its physicality, has been rendered to resemble spiritual light.

Matthew Darbyshire's Doryphoros dominates the Wohl Central Hall.
Matthew Darbyshire’s Doryphoros dominates the Wohl Central Hall.

The thing that excites me most about the Royal Academy’s exhibition is media. I stood there for hours, up close, far away, viewing works that pushed the limits of materials of creation. Woodgrain became a watery backdrop for a silhouette of fishermen in Mick Moon’s Noon Fishing. Grayson Perry’s Tapestry Julie and Rob invites us to explore the fabric of two lives. Bill Jacklin’s Stars and Sea at Night III shows us what Monotype is meant for. Emma Stibbon wows with her bleak inviting masterpieces in ink and charcoal.

Grayson Perry's
Grayson Perry’s “Julie and Rob” weaves a tale of many questions for viewers
RA lessons: How to use materials to their maximum potential
RA lessons: How to use materials to their maximum potential

What I really love about the Royal Academy show is how it turns gallery life on its head. The viewing of art has sadly become almost clinical in our modern age, with paintings, prints, and sculpture segregated and realists rarely exhibited next to their more conceptual neighbors. If a show exhibits large scale works, rarely do you see small ones hanging beside them. The salon style stacking of works, which is so well-planned, yet delightfully mixed, enables us to “discover” artists and ask questions that might even be answered by a neighboring work of art. It’s warm and cozy and playful and approachable, everything art exhibitions should be if they want to attract an intelligent audience.

Small and large works mingle on the walls of the RA's Summer Exhibition
Small and large works mingle on the walls of the RA’s Summer Exhibition

Then, there is the issue of re-appropriation.  Elise Ansel makes an even better Titian for us in her Feast of the Gods II, After Bellini and Titian. 

Elise Ansel's painting was like seeing an old friend with a great makeover. And it was poignant too.
Elise Ansel’s painting was like seeing an old friend with a great makeover. And it was poignant too.

Tom Phillips’ A Humument is an installation of book pages from the obscure Victorian novel A Human Document that is reworked into something new and captivating. To take an old story and highlight its words on the page, isolate them, and beautify them on such a vast scale is something new, but the greatness of it is that it lead me on a journey through two-dimensional space and forced me to rethink the relationship between text and image.

Tom Phillips' glorious A Humument
Tom Phillips’ glorious A Humument
The Text and Image of Tom Phillips
The Text and Image of Tom Phillips

Melissa Scott-Miller’s oil painting Holloway Back Gardens with Self-Portrait is a terrific investigation of inside/outside and near/far with daubs of color that sing together. I loved peeking into this hidden world, walled in, but not sealed off, from our view.

Melissa Scott-Miller - Spatially aware new impressionism at its finest
A detail from Melissa Scott-Miller’s Holloway Back Gardens with Self-Portrait – Spatially aware “new impressionism” at its finest

Having just learned somethings new about the 2-D world, it was then fun to enter the Large Weston Room and explore the 3-D architectural models. Often overlooked in fine arts settings, the concepts and unlimited potential of future environments, both interior and exterior was fabulously on display at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.

Horizons hold nothing back in the architectural display room at the RA
Nic Clear, Mike Aling, Hyun Jun Park, and Simon Withers’ Canvey Island – Gold Mine Model shows horizons hold nothing back in the architectural display room at the RA

If you happen to be in London during the summer, do not miss the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It left me exhilarated and happy to be a part of humanity, a humanity that is current rather than a great one that has passed. Which is a rather different thing than what you will feel upon leaving London’s museums. Nice, isn’t it?

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