There’s no doubt that Michael Craig-Martin is an inspired choice to curate this year’s exhibition for he seems to have squared the circle and produced an exhibition which is fresh, exciting, challenging and thoughtful without losing that unique feel that this largest open exhibition in the world always has.
Another show-stopper awaits as one enters the building. Jim Lambie, with the help of quite a few assistants and many miles of vinyl tape has transformed the main staircase with an installation entitled Zo Bop. The message is clear: forget all notions of the Royal Academy being old-fashioned or fuddy-duddy. It’s a wonder guests at the opening night party managed to negotiate their way out of the building without any mishaps.
Thereafter, the whole exhibition continues to look and feels very different from previous years. Craig-Martin has reappraised the way the various galleries are assigned, and in three galleries (the Wohl Central Hall, Room3 and The Lecture Room) has chosen strong colours, blue, green and magenta for the walls. He maintains that these background colours lift and emphasise the colours in the works, and, by and large, one cannot disagree. Architecture has been moved to the Large Weston Room, and there are two very interesting single-artist rooms. The Small Weston Room is devoted to the works of South African artist William Kentridge was recently elected an Honorary Academician; Gallery X is devoted to Academician Tom Phillips’ project A Humument in which he reworks every page of the book A Human Document (1892) (purchased for four pence in 1966), a project which is, as yet, unfinished.
Craig-Martin has been well served by the academicians chosen to hang the main galleries. Olwyn Bowey and Gus Cummins, for example, have done an excellent job in Gallery I digging out some very strong works from the submissions. Choosing only the very best and giving the work room to breath is a theme which is repeated throughout the exhibition. One only has to compare these examples to understand what an improvement this is.
There is only one aberration – a nasty little celeb’s corner
But we’ll forgive them that because, overall, as The Times says: “The Summer Exhibition has never looked so impressive”