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The eclectic mix that is the RA’s 2017 Summer Exhibition is a good one

14 July, 2017 — By John Evans

Eileen Cooper RA, Till The Morning Comes, oil, 122x153x4cm

THERE are the usual suspects, of course, with a Tracey Emin neon sign I Did Not Say I Can Never Love You I Said I Could Never Love coming in at £90,000 and, from Sir Michael Craig-Martin, an acrylic on aluminium Untitled (Violin) at £120,000.

Here is the 249th Summer Exhibition at the RA with a host of works by Academicians for sale alongside those of lesser known artists who entered the world’s largest open submission exhibition. Some 1,100 artworks and on show, the pick of an entry of 12,000 plus.

Many are available to buy online and a percentage of the proceeds goes towards funding the RA Schools’ three-year postgraduate course, where tuition is free.

One of the pieces already sold ahead of the public opening of the show this year was Till The Morning Comes by co-ordinator of the exhibition and retiring Keeper of the RA, Eileen Cooper.

Terry Setch RA, Tsunami, wax and oil on board, 78x73x3cm

With her team of RA colleagues, all practising artists and architects, Derbyshire-based Cooper has produced arguably the most visually coherent summer show for years.

That’s not to say the diversity is not there. With an overall theme of “welcome” it aims to celebrate “…individuality and differences, both artistic and cultural”.

And in the opening gallery, there’s a mix of paintings, photography, neon, sculpture and the occasional performance. At the centre is a mixed media piece with scooter bits, glass bottles and more called Petrol Cargo. It’s by Romuald Hazoumè from Benin and is reminiscent of vehicles used to smuggle fuel from Nigeria to his homeland.

As Cooper said: “I wanted the big names and the unknowns…” But the former do have a particularly strong showing, from Yinka Shonibare, whose Wind Sculpture VI graces the Annenberg Courtyard at the entrance to the RA to Gilbert & George, Sir Anish Kapoor, Sir Antony Gormley, Ron Arad, Cornelia Parker, Dame Elizabeth Blackadder and many more.

Michael Carter, South Stack Lighthouse, Anglesey, mixed media, 53x73x4cm

A film-maker, Isaac Julien, born in 1960 in London’s East End to St Lucian parents, took the top prize, the £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award, for a haunting piece exploring migration and opulence, called Western Union: Small Boats, made in 2007 and now in a five-screen production for the first time.

Two works highlighted by the RA itself in its publicity are worthy of note. Sarah Gwyer’s beaded, mixed media sculpture Amy Remixed pays homage to Amy Winehouse; and Mike Carter’s painting of the South Stack Lighthouse, Anglesey, captures the drama of a striking landscape.

Another to watch is RA Schools graduate Archie Franks, who is based in Regent’s Park and has two of his distinctive oils here.

A real joy is the fresh approach taken in the architecture gallery where Farshid Moussavi features far fewer models for 2017. She has gone for colourful works (one even featuring a half-peeled banana); the emphasis being “not just pragmatic depictions of design and engineering” but the “mesmerising drawings in their own right”.

And, as with the whole eclectic mix, you can judge for yourself online at:

The RA Summer Exhibition is at Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD until August 20, £15.50, concessions available; sponsored by Insight Investment.


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