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June 09, 2006

Do you want work by talented artists with no ideas or talentless artists with plenty of ideas? Take you pick at the 2006 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, says painter Jane Kelly

Posted by Jane Kelly

238th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy, London
12th June - 20th August 2006
Daily 10am - 6pm (Fridays until 10pm)

This show is a wonderful celebration, but we must move forwards.
So says Prof. Ken Howard, RA, dressed in red silk cravat and white leather slip on shoes, addressing journalists at the Royal Academy earlier this week. (7th July, 2006)

He seems a sweet man, but he and his friends are not moving anywhere in their work and one wonders at his fatuousness.

What is so disgruntling in this, the 238th Summer Show, is the way it brings together the two most depressing aspects of contemporary art; Prof. Howard who has been providing the same view of his studio decorated with nubile nude blonde with perky nipples for the last 30 years, and the Brit Art gang who featured in the 1997 Sensation exhibition, who are also still doing the same thing, almost a decade later.

There we have it - Howard, one of our most popular painters, technically accomplished but with apparently no ideas, jostling uneasily against Jake and Dinos Chapman and Damien Hirst, who have ideas a plenty but not an iota of genuine artistic skill.

Within a few yards, you veer from the bland to the psychotic. It's like being trapped inside a strange hotel where you may die at any moment either from boredom or deliberate poisoning.

All Howard's usual RA friends are showing, 415 works by them, from luminaries such as Humphrey Ocean, most famous for his odd name, John Bellany who has never learned to paint, Sandra Blow with her colourful cut outs derivative of Matisse, Leonard McCombe's desiccated sketches that look like an old lady's pressed flowers, Olwyn Bowey with her gourds, Elizabeth Blackadder with her Irises, Anthony Green with his marital sex.

In Room II, hung by Ben Levine and Ken Howard, the professor has given himself the key space, and you can see, yet again, Jeffery Camp now in his 80s, with his pretty paintings of sexual longing.

Howard might hope to "move on", but there is little sign of it.

RA's are not subject to any selection on grounds of merit, many of them did their best work forty years ago, but they brazenly show year after year, like some kind of 1960's tribute band. This year McCombe, 83, has been nominated for the Insight Image of the Year Award, worth 10,000 for his Tulips in Chinese Vase.

There are two RA's worth looking at, but they are sadly dead. The show has two rooms dedicated to Patrick Caulfield and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi RA, who both died last year.

Caulfield, who spent most of his life in Acton, and died last September aged 69, only had three retrospectives in his life-time as he worked very slowly. This is a fitting tribute, showing the great range of his work, beginning in the early 1960s with his graduation painting, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi. He was a founder of the British Pop-Art movement, but keen to move away from that label, he began making more linear, architectural work for a time, then introduced jarring elements, in a photo-realist manner.

He was always questing, confident and competent enough to play with pictorial styles, even teasing his contemporaries with little pastiches of their style. By the 1980s he was giving a witty view of modern life in paintings of bars, hotels rooms and restaurants, a cheerful vision against Francis Bacon's darker use of similar images.

Unlike many artists, he produced better paintings as he went along, a true painter rather than just a show-off, his work actually evolved.

A key wall is given to his last painting Bishops, showing giant doors slightly ajar, leading into an unknown, blank space, painted in melancholy purple. It's a tour de force which he completed while he was dying.

Paolozzi, the man who began the art school mania for print-making, doesn't do so well. He gets the Octagon room which is attractive, but his prints dating from the early 1950s, are so fragile that very little light can be let in. They are hung rather high and it is hard to see them without a ladder and a lamp.

After these RA's and scattered offerings from the public, now mixed in with the professional painters, you plunge into the real darkness of the installationists; Gallery five is dominated by an oil can, although there are some interesting, edgy nudes by James Lloyd, but countless rooms are littered with such joys as sculptures made of cigarettes, piles of plastic dolls and "joke" excrement, piles of rubbish from Joe Tilson RA, the painting of a toilet roll by Marcus Harvey, a Lamp Going On and Off, by some one or other with ideas that might once have seemed clever but are already old-hat.

Tucked away in a corner there is a painting candidly entitled: Two Little Pixies Happy As Hell On Reception of the News that Jake and Dinos Chapman Are Finally Receiving their RA, As Promised.

Finally receiving? Were these arrogant pornographers really so miffed that they had to wait a few years for what was once a major accolade, and who promised it one wonders the Prime Minister perhaps, an international bank, or have they just been given a TV show?

Anyone puzzling about the mysterious world of the RA need only consider two words: fashion and money.

Even their publicity hand-out listing "artists" who've exhibited in the Summer Show before, puts fashion designer Alexander McQueen way above Lucian Freud.

These days you can find yourself very much in favour, given a good spot on the wall, not too high, or even what they term a key wall, if you are a TV celebrity rather than an artist.

Comedian Vic Reeves has managed to get two paintings hung. A fine achievement considering that 10,000 members of the public submitted work this year, queuing up for hours on the two days appointed, but only 890 of them were hung, normally with only one work.

He presents chaotic and silly images, like something from the mind of what used to be called a "backward" child, although his sketch of Churchill shows some whimsical talent.

Apparently he was "delighted", to be accepted, but he can't have been too surprised. He happens to be starring in a BBC documentary about the summer show starting on 20th June (BBC Two - 8pm, 20th, 21st, 22nd June). It is only surprising that he hasn't been nominated for a prize as well.

The Summer Show is highly lucrative for all concerned. If you get a picture in, it will certainly sell. Last year 2m worth of art was sold, and there is 70,000 of prize money on offer, offering marvellous advertising opportunities for companies such as the crudely named Insight Investment Management (Global) Limited.

Under the strange directives of fashion, prizes seem generally to be given to the least talented artists. Seeing prize nominations next to mediocre work reminds me of a frequent scene in life-drawing classes at art schools, where the teacher, in line with modern educational practice, praises the least able person in the class, the one who makes hands look like limp rubber gloves, while students who can draw are ignored or regarded with suspicion.

Chantal Joffe, 37, who takes her images from fashion magazines and pornography, has been awarded a "key" wall, right next to the great contemporary German painter Anselm Kiefer. She is also short-listed for the Charles Wollaston Award, at 25,000 one of the largest art prizes in the UK, for her ten foot square, vacuous Blond Girl Black Dress. Something that could have been painted by Kate Moss on a very bad day.

Anne Caroline Breig, 34, originally from Sweden, a first year student at the RA schools which once spawned Constable and Turner, is up for a prize for her execrable Sex and the City, an over-worked looking collage of childish heads and advertising slogans in loud colours.

Much is made of Prof. David Mach, RA, a Scottish sculptor, one of the show's exhibition co-ordinators, also up for a prize.

He presents a line of "portraits" taken from well know images such Tretchikoff's kitsch woman with the green face, made up of shiny postcards. This kind of optical illusion is very popular with the public apparently. The work is on sale in batches of two for 50,000, so he is confident of a buyer.

Staring out from one of them is the purloined, desperate face of Vincent Van Gogh. The irony being of course, that the subjects are themselves most often seen on post-cards, as comodified, commercial objects. Big deal I think Walter Benjeman made the same point in the 1930s.

I didn't like seeing Van Gogh's image used in that way, it seemed a kind of cruel blasphemy. Writing towards the end of his life, he revealed that he did not feel he was a failure as an artist, rather, he felt he had achieved what he wanted to leave a large legacy of fine paintings to future generations. What a good thing he never saw the state of painting these days, with so few individuals standing out as he did, against the meretricious and the venal. If he'd seen this year's Summer Show he might really have become depressed.

It is summer of course, if the weather is good you can just waft through the galleries and it doesn't matter if there is really not much to look at it is just nice to be there, wandering through the enfilade of rooms with their spectacular long views, the light pouring in from above.

Looking one way to an Anish Kapoor, CBE, RA, satellite dish thingy, and the other way to a sombre grey painting by Kiefer, or from small paintings in the Weston Room across to a resounding Caulfield you know are at the heart of the cultural summer in London.

And this year's Summer Show must be almost unique in that the way it's arranged - not too cluttered, lots of space - is better than almost anything actually hung. Many might feel that the selection committee and the "co-ordinators", should be "hung" too perhaps we can look forward to that as an innovation next year?

Jane Kelly worked as a full time staff feature writer for the Daily Mail for 15 years, but she now lives as a freelance journalist and painter in west London.

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hello jane, i think you make some good points, though the title is rong as the 'talentless artists with plenty of idears' turn out in your artical to have no idears. this has always been my problem with conceptualisim - it dosnt even do what it says on the tin.

best, billy

i felt sorry to here about the vic reeves chap. it shows lack of charicter and judgment to accept his own werk to be hung - regardless of its merrit - when he is making a telivison program about the exhibition which will already have his face all over it. many people overate themselfs in this way and theirby undervalue themselfs.

Posted by: Billy Childish at June 13, 2006 10:28 AM

hi jane
that was a very funny and very apt article, I enjoyed it a lot. I wish all writing on art exhibitions was so honest, amusing and informative.
I put a piece into that show but was rejected....tant pis!!!
best wishes
Anne Forte

Posted by: anne forte at June 13, 2006 02:02 PM

hi jane
I thought your article was very interesting and I couldn't agree more.When I went to the exhibition I also felt as though I was being visually poisened and could only stop for air when I came to the caulfield gallery.It was rather tragic to see such a master set against such dross.I have participated in the BBC 2 program about the selection process and although I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it I was also very saddened at the result. I didn't get in but now I've seen the show I'm relieved.
best wishes
Davina Garrido de Miguel

Posted by: davina garrido de miguel at June 16, 2006 12:23 AM

hi jane
I thought your article was very interesting and I couldn't agree more.When I went to the exhibition I also felt as though I was being visually poisened and could only stop for air when I came to the caulfield gallery.It was rather tragic to see such a master set against such dross.I have participated in the BBC 2 program about the selection process and although I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it I was also very saddened at the result. I didn't get in but now I've seen the show I'm relieved.
best wishes
Davina Garrido de Miguel

Posted by: davina garrido de miguel at June 16, 2006 12:25 AM

Hi Jane, youre article is so true. So true.

I'm glad to hear and read responses of dis-belief and dis-appointment.
I submitted 6 works in the past 2 years with no success. Its a money maker for greedy people. The selectors ought to be politicians as they sell they idea of this being open to the public to submit but in reality the outsiders just pay for the champayne and Canapes!.
Unfortunately this exhibition is mis-leading the public as to what art is in the 21st century. I'm confident this trend cant be maintained and there will be a market correction towards common sense and true artistic ability again soon.


Posted by: Adam Dobbs at June 23, 2006 03:13 PM

What a fresh approach in describing all of the shit "art" that is out there AND being accepted by organizations like RA. Our current "artists" really should spend more time practicing proper painting technique and stop trying to shock the public just to hide the fact that they are talentless, such as those Stuckist folks. ~Nation

Posted by: nation at July 9, 2006 01:02 AM

'Shit art ' is in the eye of the beholder - -face it ,..... much of that 1960s - 70s era popular art was shit - but the art snobs embraced it ,... so now it is worth thousands of dollars -- what's next? Who knows ,.............. but you should first spend many thousands of dollars on a big fine arts degree ,...... preferably a masters --- next , have to get the talent less pseudo intellectual university level art snobs to agree, that you are 'interesting ' -- and then ,.. Hope someday,..... you will be discovered ,..... ----- but the odds are you will find your self teaching retarded kids to finger paint in some public school -- and looking forward to your retirement so you can finally escape from the little bastards ----and most of your so called art will find its way to the local flea market / swap meet ,....And some curb side scavenger will be selling your once prized masterpieces, for $10.00 each -- or the whole pile for $65.00 !

Posted by: phil at October 17, 2006 04:39 PM

Your amusing article just confirms what a waste of time the summer show is for artists unless you are an RA that is or Vic Reeves! The best part is making the art and living the life stuff the competitions. PS Len McCombe was a fabulous tutor at Goldsmiths circa 1987-89.....

Posted by: lydia Haines at February 24, 2007 09:59 PM

dear jane, loved every word but see how the good guys get bought over by the establishment. i remember len mccombe as a an inspirational tutor (oxford foundation 1969) his greatest talent was
getting us to believe we could exist as artists without the big sales. where our art was a by product of our humanness, a path to our enlightenment. we believed it, we bought it all up, we were sold. he had a brilliant dignity about him
in fact i still think that its true.but this beautiful concept seems to have got lost in the lotto of these summer exhibitions at the r.a.they lost the plot years back alas.
ah well !!we all have a price on our head.i wish him well nevertheless. thank you for your review . j.j.soul.

Posted by: john soul at June 7, 2007 09:52 PM
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