Azara Blog: Summer Show and Cranach exhibition at the Royal Academy

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Date published: 2008/06/06

The Royal Academy's 2008 summer exhibition officially starts on 9 June, with the preview days for Academy "Friends" and "serious" collectors already happening.

As is traditional these days, the Burlington House forecourt is dominated by a large sculpture, this year by Anthony Caro, and it's a typical Caro (yawn). Hiding to one side of the entrance is a much more interesting sculpture called "St George's Horse" by Michael Sandle (edition of 4 bronzes for 225k pounds each).

The first room is dedicated to R.B. Kitaj, who died last year, and part of the second room is dedicated to Colin St John (Sandy) Wilson, who also died last year. Wilson will be remembered for the British Library next to St Pancras Station, and that indeed was the focus of his featured work, including a model of the original proposal (which, it seems, was to be located in the British Museum forecourt), and a model as it was eventually finished being built (35 years later).

As usual the most interesting non-architectural room was the Large Weston room, followed by the Small Weston room, and also as usual there was barely breathing space in the latter. But there was not really anything that was special, and it's just that the later rooms really did go downhill fast.

Gallery III (the largest room) had the usual large abstracts on the walls. There was one large non-abstract there called "Tuesday Afternoon" by Lisa Milroy (53k pounds), which was notably mainly because it was rather similar to that early computer screensaver of fish (without the sound effects).

David Mach had four works in his now customary style of cutting up zillions of copies of one photo and re-arranging into a completely unrelated image, and his stuff was the best in the later rooms.

But the star of the show was a piece (not for sale) by Jeff Koons called "Cracked Egg" and located in the Central Hall (apparently there are five versions).

The architecture room was up to its usual standard. And there were quite a few private houses featured this year, which was nice to see. Mind you, none of these houses were to die for, which is a pity since many of the houses were probably 7-figure in cost (at least in dollars). The best house was by Paul Koralek, located in Wicklow, Ireland, although it seems that he was responsible for an extension rather than the original house, and it was not clear from the drawings what was what. But it did look nice, at least. The best architectural piece was a pedestrian bridge in Ostrava, Czech Republic, by Eva Jiricna.

It has become customary the last couple of years for each room to have a sign saying who hung it and what pains (or not) they allegedly went through to accomplish this. All the attention this year was on the room, Gallery VIII, done by Tracey Emin. It was supposed to be "controversial" and she was the main focus of media coverage of the summer show, which makes you wonder if this is why she was made an RA (all publicity being good publicity). Emin turned the room into the artistic equivalent of the pubescent snickering one finds amongst teenage school kids, so hardly worth a mention. But at least the room was slightly better than it is in most years, and (surprise) her painting, called "Ruined" (not for sale), was actually reasonable. The naked lady doing hula hoops with barbed wire was silly (video by Sigalit Landau). But the silliest exhibition was "Hair of the First Girl I Ever Slept With", by Michael Fullerton, who presumably borrowed the idea from the great Emin herself.

Meanwhile up in the Sackler Gallery it is the final couple of days of the Lucas Cranach exhibition. And they had a very fine sample of his work. There were lots of portraits and there were lots of the mythological and religious paintings one would expect. Perhaps the most interesting painting in the exhibition was "Christ and the Virgin Mary, or Mary Magdalen" (c1515-1520, from the Museum Schloss Friedenstein) where the figure of Christ could have been drawn yesterday. Definitely a worthwhile exhibition (and they sold out of paperback copies of the catalogue, so it must have been reasonably well attended).

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