Aug 2011 Journal

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Art notes (review)

There’s still time - until 15 August - to visit the Royal Summer Exhibition. This year - at least in the photographic room - 90 per cent of selected works are claimed to be ‘send-ins’. The annual art show has funded the training of students in the Royal Academy schools since 1769. In the 18th century, every inch of wall space was used in what became known as the salon hang, which meant works were often hung too high to be seen. This year’s co-ordinator, Royal Academician Christopher Le Brun, has embraced something of that principle in using the upper space and the floor space to achieve a coherent display and to open a dialogue between artists.

It is always risky to show articulate, contemporary works alongside established paintings. Here, compared to some of the soft-focus interior landscapes by the late Ben Levene, for instance, the first effect seems garish but, after a moment, you can see it works.

I picked out Barbara Rae’s Fishpool, Frederick Cuming’s moody Crescent Moon and Sea and Allen Jones’s Razzle Dazzle, a girl in an orange dress, which had an electric charm. I liked Cornelia Parker’s crushed silver dishes, and Edmund de Waal, now a celebrated novelist, has a display of very pale, miniature ceramics in a cabinet. Paula Rego’s work is always exciting.

There’s Anthony Gormley, but no Damien Hirst. Tracey Emin has six works - many just words on paper - and Anish Kapoor just one fibre-glass concavity. Anselm Kiefer also has one, entitled Aurora. There is one Auerbach etching: Jake.

There’s a touch of wit in Peter Freeth’s aquatint ShopTalk on Parnassus, subtitled Manet’s Cat Meets Seurat’s Dog. There are a couple of nods to past masters, like Max Ernst’s Trampette by Midge Naylor. Anthony Green RA is noticeable for his cut-out canvases; Sunflowers on Margaret’s Trestle Table inevitably recalls van Gogh. Again, in his Vase of Ceanothus, Green develops his sense of humour: a woman is at one end of the table beneath a pyramid sky while a dog eats at the other. Marion Mandeng’s Window New York offers a static array of beauty queens and Melanie Comber’s nostalgic Cartwheeler shows a gravelly road disappearing into the distance.

Some artists opt for political themes. In Oona Hassim’s G20 Series, you can really feel part of the Gaza demo. Simon Leahy Clark paints a library in which only books survive - everything else becomes detritus. But the hardest political edge is in the sculpture room. Simon Brundbret’s motorised silicone rubber Dog in a Bin is exactly that: a motorised black dog with his head stuck in a bin. Unfortunately, the motor conked out but, humour apart, this work’s message flowed into the ugly politics of war. Other sculptures included a soldier lifting a dead comrade, a flowered window box with net curtains and a pointing gun, a metal harvest of a skull, a scythe and a cockroach by Silvio Zivcovic. Other artists conveyed in metal and bronze statuary the sad reflections of a contemporary age that has still not learned its lesson.

Gloria Tessler

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