So a couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend’s mum asked if we’d like to go for afternoon tea at The Wolseley (a fancy restaurant), and visit the Royal Academy of Arts to view the Summer Exhibition. I had a few reservations, mostly because I’m quite particular with what kind of ‘art’ I appreciate, and thought it was going to be a lot like our visit to the Tate – random art installations I don’t get and backache from standing around too long. The phrase ‘each to their own’ has never been more relevant than during my visit to the Summer Exhibition. I’ve visited a few different art galleries and museums in the past few years, but never an exhibition like this.
I tried to keep an open mind though, and off we went to indulge in a bit of culture, and hopefully a massive scone or two!
Since I’ve moved house, we can now drive into Central London, so a quick 30-minute drive and we were wandering through Berkeley Square Gardens in the upmarket Mayfair area toward Piccadilly. We passed several Starbucks’ (shockingly!) and a few very upmarket hotels before finding ourselves at the Royal Academy of Arts.
As you approach, the outside building is traditional and extremely detailed, and the courtyard has a very modern twist with small fountains shooting out of the floor. Past the pretty, outdoor café and we found ourselves in the lobby. My favourite thing about old buildings is how worn the stairs are. You can imagine that when they were built, the stone would have been level. And over the years the thousands, if not millions of feet that have traipsed up and down have worn them so they’re no longer straight or level. Bit of a hazard, but still fascinates me!
And so after collecting our tickets, we made our way into the exhibition. Now, this may sound strange, but it was only as we entered that I realised this wasn’t like anything we’d ever been to before. These paintings and art pieces were for sale! I’ve never had the option to buy the art I’ve been looking at before, not that it was much of an option here with the prices of the pieces! And, as in Musee d’Orsay, it was only moments in before I got told no photos! I had checked for signs, but maybe it’s one of those general rules for exhibitions that you shouldn’t take photos.
The exhibition was made up of a number of rooms, each with a different theme, and each ‘dressed’ by a different curator. The lobby held a few pieces, but it was only more of a welcome to the exhibition and a taster for what the rest of the exhibition held.
The first room we visited was home to the ‘modern, interpretive’ art. By that, I mean there was a ton of stuff I didn’t get, like a chair with an upside down earring on it, for sale at a modest £23,000. We tried to work out who would buy it and what they’d do with it. What if someone visited your home and mistook it for an actual chair? I’ve stood on an earring, and believe me when I say it would be extremely uncomfortable to sit on one. Also in that room were, what I like to call, statement pieces. One was a bit of wood merely stating that in 2014, there’d be a certain % drop in kids choosing art as a GCSE. Another merely stated we need more poetry. It’s pretty, but I definitely wouldn’t pay those prices to hang it in my home. My boyfriend even joked that if he took his shoe off and left it on the floor, people would probably pay $$$ for it, seeing it as some kind of statement piece about our reliance on and restriction by clothing.
Moving on, I had the shock of my life as we entered the next room. There were two life size models dressed as patchwork jesters, with crazy masks that reminded me of those used in Venice during festivals. I was scared. Truly. But there was a big sculpture that looked like a mix between a lollipop and a tree, and huge painting in that room, that I would totally buy if I had £100,000 spare. The best way I can describe it is to say it looked like an abstract sunset.
We meandered through the other rooms, where we found plenty of the same kind of paintings and still shots. I’m still kind of shocked that some little squiggly pictures, that literally looked like someone doodling on a bit of a paper, were really popular at £750 a pop. Yet the more skilled oil paintings, with such fine detail that they looked like photographs remained unsold.
My favourite room by a mile was the architecture room. I love buildings, and there were still shots of features of buildings, loads of the little models of buildings, planning sketches, shots of streets and the such like. I only wish I could have taken photos. If I had to pick one, my favourite in this room would have been the acrylic still shot of a spiral staircase. At first glance, it looks like a shell, then as you actually realise what you’re looking at you see the staircase, and all the detail on it. Loved it!
Some other pieces that stood out for me as we wandered around the exhibition were the paintings of a giant marmite jar, surrounded by tiny people, a huge Lego man strolling around a minute city, a photograph of guys playing football on a beach as the sun sets in the background and the video of sand art. Some that stuck out for not so good reasons: a painting of a woman upside down with blood on her face, a painting of a woman with a 3d green bra, a portrait of Van Gogh made out of pins and a piece of cardboard with a black and white painting of a coin on it (at a pricey £1750!!).
Overall, there was some real talent on show at the exhibition, but I think I’m just not really clued up enough on the ‘modern’ art that is supposed to be interpretive. I like a lovely painting or a stunning photo that everyone can appreciate, not a chair that should have a warning sign attached to it.