4TH JUNE-12TH AUGUST 2012
To paraphrase Groucho Marx: I wouldn’t want to be a member of any royal academy that would have clowns like these as its members.
There’s a shop on Brighton seafront that seems to sell little or nothing else but gaudy, jolly paintings of cows. Perhaps they do very well, I don’t know one way or the other. If they sell a lot of gaudy cow paintings and there’s a steady stream of punters who want gaudy paintings of cows then good luck to them. The people, I mean, although it would be remiss of me not to also wish cows good luck.
The RA summer exhibition is like that, except that the cow painting shop fills one entire wing of a large neoclassical building. These are works (painting, mostly, because that’s proper art) that are for the most part in a modern idiom but are not actually contemporary because there is no engagement with anything resembling any kind of idea, let alone any engagement with what our culture is doing or thinking or heading for right now. There may be (and is, in some cases) impeccable craft to be seen in the work, but absolutely no rigour of intellect.
About the only good thing about the RA summer show is that they still show all the work more or less as they did two and a half centuries ago: all crammed in and crawling up the walls. I wish more galleries just showed the maximum amount of work by the maximum number of artists in this kind of visual cacophony. I wouldn’t even be very sad to see the end of the solo exhibition. We’re all engaged in a quasi-Darwinian struggle for survival and attention against other artists anyway, so why not just embrace it? Let gallery visitors decide who they think is worth looking at. I think quality- however one chooses to define it- does and must come through. Another visitor (or even the same visitor) on another day might value completely different work. It’s not inevitable that one of these people should be disappointed. They could both be satisfied.