Can you a keep an annual show, which has run for over 200 years, fresh?
The curators of this year’s RA summer exhibition certainly gave it a very good shot. The first thing you notice when you enter the exhibition space is the colour, not of paintings themselves, but the vivid red paint job on the walls. From this scarlet background large canvases with tones of blue, green and yellow emerge. The effect is like stepping into Matisse’s Red Studio In an exhibition of over a 1000 works it is vitally important that each room works as a whole, offering a distinct mood and experience. Once within the room your eye will be drawn to whatever it is that takes your fancy. I always think the Summer Show is like a pick and mix; take what you like, leave what you don’t, there is always something for everyone.
The second big change is that the small paintings, which are traditionally displayed in the smallest room, have been moved to a much larger space. The effect is stunning, a patchwork of intricate artworks. Previously the small painting room had been a claustrophobic place and difficult to manoeuvre around; paints hung low on the wall were obscured by people’s heads and shoulders and those hung high up left you craning your neck.
The new layout appealed to me enormously as the small paintings were always my favourites, the ones that related most to my own practice as an illustrator, and the method of displaying them mirrors the way I curate the postcards, polaroids and ephemera on my bedroom walls. Every piece is special, but greater consideration is given to the pleasing effect of the whole composition. This manner of curating materials feels very much of the times, and has the manner of a Pinterest board about it.
The print making room is another favourite room of mine, and the works were displayed in very much the same way. My favourite game to play as I walk around is look at the pieces and then guess what method was used to create them; lino, lithography, screenprint, etching, wood cut etc. Pieces that evoked a sense of nostalgia and British-ness were big seller this year.
I am always fascinated by the architecture room of all the disciplines in the show architecture is the one I know least about. The incredibly intricate models are such a fusion of art and science.
What was interesting this year was inclusion of textile art and embroidery into the show, something I really enjoyed.
The sculpture room was hit and miss. Items were displayed together like knick-knacks in a charity shop window, and it was easy to miss things. There were small pieces with a sense of humour, and larger abstract pieces without. The only piece that really stayed with me was a life size sculpture of a small child curled up sleeping made of white feathers.
I would highly recomend you go, but it is now closed (oops), so make a date in your diary for next year!