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!
“Southeastern apologies for the late running of this service…” echoes from the tannoy at St Pancras station, but delays aside, the high-speed link to Margate takes just ninety minutes. Once on the coast you can see The Turner Contemporary less than a kilometre away, along the promenade in its stunning sea-front location. The Gallery is completely free and currently exhibiting a retrospective of Grayson Perry’s work from 1980’s to the present day entitled ‘Provincial Punk’ which nicely encapsulates the artists teasing rebellion. Visitors enter into a room filled with free standing plinths showcasing at least fifteen of Perry’s ceramic pots of various sizes, styles and décor; a highlight for me was one shaped like the European Cup called ‘Football Stands For Everything I Hate’ humorously covered in words like ‘pub bores’, ‘bad tattoo’, ‘hair-gel’, ‘cheap fags’ and more. The next room includes additional ceramics including the powerful and provocative ‘Dolls at Dungeness’ made shortly after the attacks on September 11th 2001 and depicts planes in the sky with buildings and children below, and speech bubbles wording ‘help’, ‘go kill yourself for a virgin fuck’ and ‘testosterone addicts’. It also includes etchings, watercolours, collages, early films, and photographs of his most recent 2015 ‘A House for Essex’ project. Not only does it showcase Perry’s talent, it also highlights his intelligence with influences ranging from English 17th century slipware, to global folk pottery, ancient Greece, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, 19th century commemorative plates, his own childhood and much more. The final room is dedicated to three huge tapestries drawn on photo-shop then made with a computer controlled loom. Most notable is ‘The Walthamstow Tapestry’ which parodies the Bayeux Tapestry and successfully intertwines themes ranging from religion, to identity, class, politics and media amongst others. Artistic merit aside, this exhibition provides a thought provoking and wry commentary on contemporary culture.