Saturday, 1 August 2009

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition A Big Con Shock!

I had a few days in London at the start of the week, staying with friends and meeting up with some others. It was great. In between I managed to visit lots of exhibitions across the Capital, mainly at the big institutional galleries, as there was a lot I was keen to see (I’ve also got my Tate members card this year and I’m determined to get my money’s worth!).

On Monday, I started off at the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Abstract America’, which I found a bit boring if I’m honest. My tastes in contemporary painting lean towards abstract painting, but I found the painters in this exhibition all trying a bit hard- there was too much thinking about it, and not enough passion or heart. The result was a rather lifeless selection of work, which just wasn’t that exciting to look at. The abstract sculpture that was on display had much more energy though. Over at Tate Modern I enjoyed the Futurism exhibition, where the paintings by comparison seemed much more fresh and powerful even now. Better still was the retrospective of Danish painter and sculptor Per Kirkeby, whose work had a great elemental energy to it that I found very inspiring. I found myself going back to it on Wednesday morning for a second look (the advantages of my Tate card…).

Per Kirkeby
On Tuesday I was confronted by a large man dressed in a sequinned dress and an enormous feather headdress on top of the Fourth Plinth as I entered Trafalgar Square on my way to the National Gallery. I had my usual little pilgrimage to Piero Della Francesca’s ‘Baptism of Christ’ (my favourite painting), before heading down to the Sainsbury Wing to the lovely ‘Corot to Manet’ landscape exhibition. As I descended the stairs I looked out of the huge windows with a direct view on to the Fourth Plinth and there was the aforementioned man now naked except for the headdress! It was only 10.15am. He then proceeded to dress in a bright yellow ‘Angel of the North’ costume and salute from north to south. It was all rather marvellous.

Later on I had a mooch around Cork Street, and discovered a great Ken Currie exhibition at Flowers. I then headed to my first Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This was a bit of a shock as I thought most of the work was pretty awful if I’m honest. I was also shocked by how little space is actually given over to the exhibition of art by members of the public, which so much is made of on the television and in the press. There was only a small room and the printmaking room that was used, with a few other bits intermingled in one of the other room amongst the so-called ‘Academicians’. It all seemed a big con! And it looked rubbish anyway, it really did. My advice to anyone thinking of entering is- don’t bother. You’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of getting in at great cost and inconvenience, and your work won’t look any good anyway next to someone’s picture of their cat. It could be worse though- you could be next to the extraordinarily bad Anthony Green.

Jeff Koons
Gasping for air, I staggered up to the Serpentine Gallery to see the first show in a UK public gallery of Jeff Koons’ art . I found this all a bit weird and creepy. People seemed obsessed by the fact that the inflatable toys were made from stainless steel, and by the photo-realist techniques in the paintings. It all seemed to get in the way for me, and mask what was a very empty experience. I just couldn’t get the work to ‘save my life’ in the way Jeff wanted.
Elizabeth Peyton
I visited the newly refurbished Whitechapel Gallery on Wednesday on the off chance as I waited for a friend who was running late. I was pleased to discover a major retrospective called ‘Live Forever’ of the American painter, Elizabeth Peyton, whose work I quite like. It was great to see so many of the paintings in the flesh, as reproductions don’t do them justice in terms of their intimate scale and Elizabeth’s incredibly skilled handling of oil paint. All the images of the ‘beautiful people’ that she depicts, including many famous rock stars dead or alive did jar after a while.It all got a bit sickening and repetitive after a bit, where I found myself longing for a different tone to the images where the artist was less in thrall to it’s glamorous subjects. I yearned for something grittier. Time to go back home to the Midlands…

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