Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer Exhibition 2008

We ate lunch at "Eat" -- a takeaway food shop with sandwiches, salads, and soup of a higher-quality than typical fast food. After lunch, we went to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition. This is the first time I've seen the exhibition in three years, and I have missed it. This year's show contained roughly 1200 works by living artists (with rare exceptions) both known and completely unknown. Most of the works are for sale, and prices range from less than £50 to nearly £100,000 (and some not for sale I expect are worth far more -- like Jeff Koons's "Cracked Egg"). With so many works on view, it would be hard to summarize even the ones we especially liked.

Libby's favorite seemed to be a conceptual work by Sue Whale entitled "Case Study III: The Entomology of Love." The work consisted of paper hearts (or maybe butterflies?) grouped, labeled, and pinned to a board (like a collection of insects). The labels seemed to describe locations ("Audi A8" especially struck me) in which one presumes some sort of "event" transpired. What type of event? I have no idea, but the feeling of the work seemed to suggest something innocent rather than lurid. Of course, I could be completely wrong. That's the fun of exploring contemporary art.

For me, I espcially enjoyed the works of Paul Huxley RA and Jennifer Durrant RA. These are two artists in need to learn more about. In both cases, the art was not obviously representational. Huxley's abstracts were hard edge, geometric, and bold. Durrant's were more painterly, organic, and subtle. I was also interested in a work by John Holden-- another geometric, hard-edged painting called Castle XXI. Unfortunately, while I found the image compelling, on close inspection I also found the execution to be rather sloppy. In my mind, such a work calls for precision. Holden's suffered from what appeared to be accidental paint drips, slight over-painting near the masking lines, and obvious signs of repainting to change proportions of different elements. Are any of these a sin? No. But I've personally done enough hard edge painting to know an accident (however "happy") from a design choice. And for nearly £10,000, I think a collector at least deserves intent from an artist.

On a final (happier) note, Tracey Emin RA organized a gallery that some would find disturbing, shocking, or just downright objectionable. Emin is known for being provocative -- so the room's content didn't really surprise me. What I most enjoyed was watching the reactions of others, like an elderly couple contemplating a sculpture made up of pink silicone rubber penises (which, btw, when reflected onto the wall forms a shadow in the shape of two human heads). If "art" is separated from mere "objects" by its underlying thought, Noble and Webster's "Pink Narcissus (Version 1)" is truly art on many levels. ;-)

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