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250th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2018

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2018 (12th June to 19th August, 10am – 6pm) celebrates #RA250

Wanting to mark the occasion in style, the organisers asked contemporary artist Grayson Perry to curate the exhibition, relying on his keenly individual sense of style, colour, and approach to shake up the established principles of the Academy.

Perry does not disappoint. Intent on displaying over 1,300 works, Perry abandons the stripped-back approach of many recent exhibitions and confronts the works head on. The result is a sprawling exhibition throughout thirteen rooms, each exploding with a vast array of works from a number of different artists.

The first work one encounters in the exhibition is a sprawling 15-foot tree made of felt, its branches weighed down by a myriad of sequins and textiles, which dominates the room. The sheer randomness of this work sets the precedent for the remainder of the exhibition. The second room is painted a garish neon yellow, its walls strafed with frames crammed into every available inch of wall space. While at risk of appearing overworked or disorganised, the exhibition is instead playful, daring, and exciting, and feels like wandering around a playground wondering what to amuse yourself with next.

 

The narrative of the Summer Exhibition is to showcase work by amateurs in conjunction with some of the best known contemporary artists. As such, the relationship between works is often lost in a way that would never happen in a cohesive exhibition covering a certain artist or theme. Perry thus abandons all pretence of interrelations, hanging an oil portrait of Nigel Farage next to a ten-foot sculpture of the Pink Panther and, in the third room, placing a life size silicone statue of a man as if he were viewing the paintings alongside guests. This allows the viewer to examine the works as individual projects as opposed to some small piece of a greater whole. It is a refreshing method of allowing one to view an artwork without any preconception of what it is and why it is there.

The exhibition is a necessary shake-up for the RA, and one that challenges the way that exhibitions have traditionally been managed. The sole fault of the show revolves around Banksy’s work, which was rejected when submitted under a pseudonym but gratefully accepted under his moniker. In an exhibition that repeatedly stresses the importance of art over artist, product over producer, this was a faux pas on the result of the organisers.

Indeed, by asking a figure as divisive as Perry to curate the show the Academy ran the risk of him imposing himself too much in the exhibition. However, while it bears many of his exuberant and explicit trademarks, the works largely speak for themselves and flourish in this Pick ‘N ‘Mix spectacle.

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