05/06/2015 09:33 BST | Updated 04/06/2016 06:59 BST

Review: Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts 'A Riot of Colour'


That great art institution, the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, is with us once again. All its familiar and much loved hallmarks are there, from the mix of emerging and established artists, to the packed walls and galleries. Only this year it all comes with an explosion of colour.

Michael Craig-Martin is this year's coordinator and he has gone for walls painted in vivid magenta and electric blues. The impact is impressive and gives you a buzz as soon as you enter the galleries but it also makes for an interesting challenge when viewing some of the works.

An example is the muted, almost sombre, Mississippi River Blues by Richard Long, one of the shortlisted works for the Charles Wollaston Award. It's a beautiful piece of titanium white ink pouring down over a black wash. Yet its backdrop of a bright pink wall is such a stark contrast, it can jar a little.


I'm not necessarily criticising the clash - it's actually quite intriguing. But it's quite a conflict between the 'up' and the 'high' that electric pink brings to the mind, and the calm background required for contemplation.

But that's one of the most enduring hallmarks of the Summer Exhibition, the chaos of it. Over 1000 artworks are on display in the galleries, which gives the curators plenty of opportunity to embrace the salon hanging style where the art is crammed together. In no room is this more evident than the Lecture Room, where Bill Woodrow and Alison Wilding have piled in the sculpture. It's a wonderful assault on the senses.

As always, there's great representation from the established artists. There's a vibrant floor-to-ceiling technicolour tapestry from Grayson Perry (who is pretty much a national institution in his own right, these days), drawings from Tracey Emin, a haunting vitrine from Anselm Kiefer (who had his own show at the RA last year) and a stunning acrylic from Anish Kapoor.


A real highlight for me was the wonderful The Sisters, a piece from the late William Bowyer, of two elderly sisters wrapped up in coats and hats sitting inside a cool interior. If I had the £30,000 needed to purchase this going spare, I would buy it. But as an impoverished writer, there is no chance! And certainly my annual dream of purchasing one of the romantic Bill Jacklin scenes remains just that - a dream!

Another highlight was the Small Weston Room. Last year the walls in this room were smothered with small-scale artworks. This year the room has been set aside for works from William Kentridge, the South African artist who has recently been elected an Honorary Academician, and William has chosen an elegant hanging of some of his recent drawings and lithographs.

The works interrogate the recent upheavals in his native country through the use and reassembly of dictionary and encyclopaedia pages into the style of African trees. And the room, with its monochrome palette of black and white, makes for a great contrast with the riot of colour in the other galleries.


For those with a few more pennies than me, there is the opportunity to buy some of the works as the majority of the pieces are for sale and there is a huge range of media to choose from - paintings, prints, sculpture, photography and film.

And of course, architecture too for the Summer Exhibition remains committed to showcasing these works in their dedicated Architecture Gallery. This year the room is curated by Ian Ritchie with a theme of Inventive Landscapes, examining the interdependence of landscape and architecture, and includes works from household names such as Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers.

But whether you're buying or not, this year's Summer Exhibition is an exciting, dynamic exhibition, full of craft mixed with a dash of showmanship, and is a terrific showcase for so many talented artists. A great experience. But set aside some time for your visit - there's a lot to see!

Royal Academy of Arts, London to August 16, 2015

Image Credits:

1.View of the Central Hall Photography: John Bodkin, DawkinsColour © Royal Academy of Arts

2.Grayson Perry CBE RA Julie and Rob, 2013 Courtesy the artist, Paragon/Contemporary Editions and Victoria Miro, London

3.View of the Lecture Room Photography: John Bodkin, DawkinsColour © Royal Academy of Arts

4.Royal Academician Conrad Shawcross stands in front of The Dappled Light of the Sun, 2015 (c) Royal Academy of Arts, Benedict Johnson