Grayson Perry is everywhere. He is in the Summer Exhibition with two pieces, a glazed ceramic piece entitled Stupid White Thing and a woodcut called Selfie with political causes, in an edition of 12 and priced at £51,600 each. He was hosting a tour of the exhibition at the press view, flouncing through the galleries in a clown suit. He is in the gift shop with Grayson Perry T-shirts, Grayson Perry mugs, Grayson Perry notecard sets, Grayson Perry necklaces and Grayson Perry Red Alan toys. He also co-ordinated the hanging of the show, and was in charge of the first two galleries, which he had painted canary yellow and had thrown everything at the walls. And it works. It’s completely mad, but it is fun, and so unlike anything that has occurred in the last 250 years. But then the wheels fall off. Last year, there were 1,090 exhibits, but this year there were 1,347 and in less space, because The Great Spectacle exhibition had robbed the SummerExhibition of the Weston Rooms and Galleries I and II. It seems odd to increase the number of works and shoe-horn them into less space, but they have, and the resulting displays are a shambles, with the Piers Gough curated Architecture Gallery res-sembling a store-room waiting to be unpacked, and the sculpture galleries, curated by Phyllida Barlow, and Cornelia Parker with Grayson Perry (it’s that man again) are an omnishambles. Banksy is on show for the first time, with a new work based on a UKIP poster, entitled Vote to Love, priced at £350million, the price being the amount that the Leave campaign once promised would go to the UK National Health Service each week if Britain left the EU.
The usual suspects are all there, with Ken Howard’s petrichor reflections of Venice, Joe Tilson’s Stones of Venice series, Stephen Farthing’s visual rants, Norman Ackroyd’s exquisite etchings, Mick Rooney’s gouache and tempera paintings of magical realism and Bill Jacklin’s swirling out-of-focus oils, including a new way of looking at the stars and the sea, as monoprints, as well. One can only guess how much Ken will appreciate the cheesy, larger-than-life portrait of him by Tim Hall. The Courtyard has a ridiculous pile of stones and boulders underneath a metal frame holding a red fabric disc entitled Symphony for a Beloved Daughter by the ultimate showman Anish Kapoor, but, sadly, it is not for sale. Neither are David Hockney’s two gigantic photographic drawings, which seem a little pointless, in spite of their size and provenance. As an honorary RA, Anselm Kiefer has a mixed medium assemblage comprising emulsion, oil, shellac lead, metal, clay, gold leaf and wood, entitled Gehäutete Landschaft, which translates as Skinned Landscape, also NFS. In the Wohl Central Hall is an enormous textile column by Joana Vasconcelos, called Royal Valkyrie, which is a hand-made woollen crochet creation, with felt and fabric appliqués. Most of the prints, photographs and drawings are now housed in the Sackler Galleries upstairs, and one wonders how many visitors will make it up there. Tom Phillips seems to have come to a full-stop with his digital print and screenprinted Humument series, which he has been producing since 1970, while Cornelia Parker also seems to run out of ideas and presents her limited edition polymer photogravure etchings of Fox Talbot’s Articles of Glass.
The Great Spectacle tells the story of the annual show, which has been held, without interruption, since 1769, and this is celebrated in an excellent display in the rooms at the front of Burlington House, overlooking the Courtyard. It has been arranged in chronological order, starting with A Georgian Parade, when the RA was housed in Somerset House, with the deliciously salacious Thomas Rowlandson print called Exhibition Stare Case, with plump, knickerless ladies tumbling down the stairs, simultaneously mocking the exhibition-going public, eager to see the annual show, and the London art establishment. After that, the visitor moves into The Rise of Genre Painting, The Triumph of Landscape, with examples by Constable and Turner, and The Pre-Raphaelites, with the painting by John Everett Millais of Isabella, on loan from the Walker Art Gallery. Also on show is William Frith’s A Private View at the RoyalAcademy, 1881, with fashionable London ladies mixing it with Oscar Wilde, who is pontificating in front of a group of admirers. John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Henry James was slashed by the suffragette Mary Wood at the Summer Exhibition of 1914, while Michael Gandy’s masterful watercolour of Public and Private Buildings Executed by Sir John Soane between 1780 and 1815 is on loan from his museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. David Wilkie’s historical painting of old soldiers reading of Napoleon’s defeat, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch caused a sensation when displayed in 1822. Into the modern era, they have Pietro Annigoni’s Annigoni’s Queen Elizabeth II, which drew huge crowds in 1955, and Michael Craig-Martin’s Reconstructing Seurat (Orange), as well as a display of posters advertising the Summer Exhibitions over the years.
To coincide with the Summer Exhibition, flags are hanging high above Bond Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, decorated with designs by artists Rose Wylie, Cornelia Parker and Joe Tilson. And, of course, Grayson Perry.
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