A Breath of Summer Air at the Royal Academy in London
For the last 247 years during the three summer months, there has been an exhibition of top of the range art forms at the Royal Academy. This establishment is located at Burlington House, halfway along Piccadilly in London. In recent years I have always made a point of taking a visit. I love the opportunity of spending a day in London and I actually take great refreshment from the exhibits. The ‘Summer Exhibition’ for me has become an annual must see. I put it in my diary when the dates are published.
The Royal Academy’s summer exhibition is the largest spectacle of contemporary art in the world. It has been staged each year since 1768 and draws over 150,000 visitors annually from all over the planet. Everyone seems to go. People of all ages turn up alongside great artists and art critics. There are occasional freaky weirdoes that come along and people like me as well.
There are generally around 1200 works exhibited across a number of rooms. There are all types of art forms but mostly paintings, sculpture and architecture. They are all very different and all have emerged from outside of the creative box. Hopeful artists can make submissions in advance. They are allowed a maximum of two each and they are all carefully considered by expert eyes. When works are accepted, they represent a great achievement for the creator. They can flog their work at a good price, enhance their career beyond measure and put RA after their name. A vast number of submissions are made each year but only a few make it to the public exhibition. Some artists have submitted each year for a lifetime but never see their work hanging on the wall.
I am not really a committed art person but I am always captivated. It is the paintings and drawings for me rather than the often obscure sculpture and hi tech architecture.
The paintings and drawings are contemporary in a very sublime form. Many of them leave an impression on my mind and my consciousness. Sometimes, perhaps just for a fleeting moment, the brief change of chemical activity that occurs in my brain is always a fresh experience. There have been paintings that I have seen of something or of a phenomenon that seem to trigger vague recollections from my previous lives. Events or places that I cannot quite put my finger on but my brain seems to know everything about them privately all by itself but it keeps them a secret. It is always generally a pleasant experience, a feeling of going back in time, a suggestion of past securities, now long gone, somehow.
The artworks are recognisable forms but often not as we know them. The first glance can often seem meaningless. When you find something that you like though, you should concentrate hard on it and let your pliable, mental electrical activity find the spot.
Over a century ago, French impressionist and cubism art representations came to public attention. They were treated with great derision initially and had no value. Art critics felt insulted if they were asked to comment. A hundred years later, long after the deaths of the artists, such works are worth many millions of pounds and are prized possessions of galleries and individuals across the world. I reckon that present day ‘Summer Exhibition’ stuff is probably just the same. People need to adjust to it, to sense it without prejudice and to really enjoy the aesthetic experience of viewing it.
To attend the summer exhibition costs £12.00 and includes a little book detailing all the works presented. The asking price is printed against each one. Costs vary, seemingly, without any logic. Some works that appear to have great quality can be quite cheap at just a few hundred quid. Other, apparently nonsense daubings, can be up in the hundreds of thousands. They will mean something to somebody though but they will need to have cash and courage to invest. A little red dot attached to a work means that somebody has offered to buy it. They can’t take it away with them of course until the exhibition ends and they have parted with their money.
Some works are huge occupying almost an entire wall yet many quite tiny. Nobody seems to look at the small items for long but I find that some of them can leave a profound impression on my conscious spirit. Some of the smallest works are offered at some of the lowest prices. The subtlety is often in the detail if you look quite hard. Most artists are rather strange people devoting a lifetime to their work in their obscure studios. Many make no money during their lives and have to die before they get to be very rich. Perhaps that in itself is a sort of contemporary art form.
The throngs of daily visitors form a very cosmopolitan crowd. Europeans, Americans, Asians and especially, it seems, the Japanese. Foreign visitors all seem to take a very curious and uninhibited stroll through the exhibition rooms. It seems that it is just the British that adopt a more superior, more analytical stance as they pace the corridors.
Being an older bloke just living off his pension, I have never bought anything yet at the summer exhibition. I have though, been very tempted now and again. I love going to the ‘Summer Exhibition’ each year. It makes me feel younger, contemporary, aware of new concepts and very posh.
I look to forward to next year and I might even ask Lyn if she wants to come with me. She could buy the beers afterwards.