The Royal Academy have, for their 250th Anniversary, pulled out the big guns for the Summer Exhibition, the centre piece of the RAs calendar. This year (the 249th summer exhibition) Grayson Perry RA, and his female alter ego Clair, has taken the curatorial mantle to create what is the most original, creative and witty Summer Exhibition that has been held in my memory.
Entering into the Wohl Central Hall you’re greeted by a huge hanging stuffed fabric installation that fills the room in a warm but commanding way. Perry has painted the hall blue to allow the hanging and the sparsely hung paintings dotted around the room at different heights, to tie in yet pop – from the painting of The Queen, The Pope and Van Gough sitting in a bar together, to the photo of a man growing a tree the noose round his neck is tied to as he slowly hangs himself. This comes after the imposing disk and boulder Anish Kapoor sculpture in the courtyard, and the concrete and rubble filled sleeping bag by Mike Nelson on the stair case; the first hint at the social and political themes that run through this years exhibition.
The political nature of the exhibition becomes evident in Room III where Perry has nailed his colours to the bright yellow walls. The walls are adorned with portraits of Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and amusingly a painting of the Queen in a Grayson Perry style coat by Sudjiadi Widjaja. The room also references the Grenfell Tower disaster, Brexit, and for £9,000 you can purchase the image of Donald Trump having sex with a woman on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office while he wears her Miss Mexico sash.
As you move through be sure to look out for the scrap metal guard dogs (one’s a poodle with a bow tie), the silver walls with light Matisse cut outs and the pop art of Room V. Giant hand made balls and ropes of paper ganging across one rooms corner, the stretched head of The Queen, and the Persian rug bear. The political theme continues with a collage of golfers reflecting the battle over Woman members of St Andrew’s, while the Lecture Room features two huge Hockney’s, which are in themselves retrospectives of his career.
The exhibition this year is spread through Burlington House, allowing you to see some of the now finished renovations to the RA. The exhibition stretches to the Sackler Wing of Galleries where Chris Orr RA and Emma Stibbon RA have taken the lead in hanging works. It is collection of superb works carrying on themes from the main galleries. It’s walls include a Grayson Perry, that sums up the artists beliefs and politics, a print by the Queen of Norway, a superb set of Chris Orr’s and a recent piece of St James’s Square by Adam Dant.
The use of the wider building to display this year’s Summer Exhibition is a superb touch. The main galleries are light and open, not over hung, as has been the case at times, and the use of the other spaces and galleries adds to this. It helps to make the exhibition more immersive and to a degree interactive. What is most different, and refreshing (whether you agree with the message or not), is the political message that Perry brings to the exhibition. I cannot recall a time when the exhibition has had a message and it is all the better for it, it brings a new dimension to the exhibition, which had been getting stale. But it’s not overly political and has a fun whimsical side to it thanks to a more thoughtful way of hanging and wall/space decoration that hasn’t been the case before either; its something they have been developing over the years but it has taken Perry to bring it on leaps and bounds to fruition. Long may this new take continue!
The RA Summer Exhibition
12 June – 19th August 2018
Burlington House, Piccadilly,
London, W1J 0BD