The Summer Exhibition: Royal Academy

Lamentably June’s weather may not be yielding any indication of summer, however The Royal Academy’s annual ‘Summer Exhibition’ which opened on 13th June has denoted the beginning of the season in the art world. Now in its 248th year, the exhibition is something of a London institution and is certainly worth a visit. As you turn off Piccadilly and enter the gallery’s courtyard, you are greeted by Ron Arad’s monumental sculpture ‘Spyre’, an 18 metre tall moving cone with a camera at its apex constantly filming the surrounding area from different angles which is then projected onto Burlington House. This impact is echoed in the stairwell featuring photographic images by Jane and Louise Wilson, and again in the opening gallery (The Central Hall) which includes a huge yellow neon sign ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, a hand painted photograph on canvas of Marie Antoinette by Pierre et Gilles, and a stone Petrified Petrol Pump by Allora and Calzadilla amongst others. This years’ show is co-ordinated by Richard Wilson RA, and with a staggering 1,240 works on display it is as vast, densely hung, varied and subjective as ever. The open submission nature of the show ensures that all mediums are represented from watercolour, to etching, engraving, printing, sculpture, installation, photography and digital, from both established artists and emerging talent. The standout piece for me is Katlug Ataman’s digital installation ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’ created from 10,000 LCD panels which hang above head height, each containing a portrait photograph of someone the Turkish philanthropist knew prior to his death fifteen years ago. Anything controversial is collated in Gallery IX including Michael Stokes explicit clay sculptures, Rachel Maclean’s digital orgy prints, and The Kipper Kids provocative photographic images. I liked the fact that Wilson does not seem to want to provoke or generate conversation by being deliberately shocking, instead he consciously explores the theme of artistic duos in this years’ show. So if London’s skies are going to remain grey I’d suggest heading to the RA for a burst of colour, lightness and humour to fake summer at their aptly titled exhibition!

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s ‘Forever’ neon sign in The Central Hall
Katlug Ataman
Katlung Ataman’s digital installation created from 10,000 LCD panels
Balloon man - Yinke Shonibare
Yinke Shonibare’s ‘Balloon Man’ hovering above other pieces in Gallery VII

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Plantin-Morteus Museum: Antwerp, Belgium

The Museum Plantin Moretus in Antwerp is a little known Unesco World Heritage Site that up until last weekend I’m ashamed to admit I’d never even heard of! The 440 year old former residence and print-works of Christophe Plantin and his heir and son-in-law Jan Moretus is a unique place to visit; the dark wood and original tapestry interiors smell centuries old, the 17th century floorboards creak under foot, the gilt leather walls cry out to be touched, and an enviable library fills your nostrils with the aroma of old parchment. The rooms are numbered to help orientate visitors and ensure a set route through the museum, however I still felt free to explore and roam the idiosyncratic town house… crouching under low doorways, ambling up narrow stairwells and venturing in and out of the beautiful courtyard garden the building centres around. It has been a museum since 1876 when Edward Moretus esquire sold the building and its contents to the Belgian state and city of Antwerp for that exact purpose, and it opened to the public within a year. The eclectic collection invites just as much exploration as the building and comprises period furnishing and paintings, 640 manuscripts, 80,000 printed items, 25,000 books, etching plates illustrated by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, as well as the two oldest printing presses in the world dating back to 1600. It’s always good to be pleasantly surprised by a less celebrated museum and the fact that I had a fun-fuelled grin on my face throughout my visit is testament to how convivial the building and its collection are. The fact that it is not a “big-name” also meant it was minus the throngs of tourists that its neighbour Rubens House museum had, which only made for a far more intimate and enjoyable experience.

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