Everyone Must Go! The 250th Summer Exhibition in Review

Introduction: How the Art Viewer Came to be

Art has always had a place in my life, my youth filled with gallery visitations and parents doing what any middle England-class family does, giving their children cultural direction. This Renaissance painting of Jesus is beautiful, this 1980s dollop of paint is tripe.

The route to modern art acceptance wasn’t by any means easy, collectively I’ve probably spent hours sitting in front of sculptures and paintings, refusing to move on until I saw something beyond the physical. At times I’d use the description for clues, but eventually I’d be able find that tiny door that opened my understanding. And when I found that opening it would change everything. Like a weird kind of Object Sexuality speed date, I’ve approached art with little interest and five minutes later found myself deeply moved by the story it speaks. Nowadays I find myself having to contain my emotion or else run the risk of having family or friends disown me for being a posh snob in High Street brand pyjamas, but whenever I’m alone my inner deep thinker comes alive. And those are the times I get truly inspired.

The 250th Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts, London

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is a yearly event where people submit art

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Closing Down Sale by Michael Randy

they feel is worthy for display and, for the most part, worthy of a buck or two (as Michael Randy’s installation puts it ‘everything must go’). Less look, but don’t touch, more touch but then buy. This year’s coordinator was Grayson Perry, a popular artist well-known for his down-to-earthiness, ceramic works and cross-dressing. Promotional images showcased rooms where art hangings filled every inch from ankle to ceiling as if the organisers took immense pride in the clutter as if to say “come visit an exhibition so aspirational that the artists will take whatever space we offer!” While I’d not had the Summer Exhibition on the top of my London ‘to do’ list when I relocated here, once I’d seen it advertised I just knew I had to go.

On the day I of visitation I entered the first gallery and found myself immediately stunned. The summary online had forewarned that art would be in abundance, but some things don’t translate until you physically see it. The second sensory overload came from the volume of people. Never in my life had I attended an exhibition where so many others were present in such a small space. Initially I found these two elements a shock to the system, so quickly manoeuvred to a piece of art further away from the entrance door.

I took an early interest in a pencil drawing that depicted hundreds of couples undergoing a kind of mass marriage in a non-descript Asian country. But where was the description and artist? I flicked through my little list of works book and found the title, Love at First Sight, the artist and the sale price nothing else. No detail, no description, nothing. I looked down at the guide, unable to believe that what I was holding was just price list. Around me people flicked through the books without concern so I gathered that my reaction was a result of being a Summer Exhibition newbie.

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Unaffordable Housing by Carl Godfrey

The lack of information coupled with the volume of art and human traffic put my interpretation skills to the test. For some there was little to read into (even Trump and Miss Mexico by Alison Jackson made me blush) and a great deal of hangings presented dry humour or political satire. Two striking examples of these values came out in both a sculpture by Carl Godfrey that mocked new housing estate signs and David Shrigley’s Untitled grouping which parodied the devaluing of news.

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Part of the Untitled grouping by David Shrigley

From Grenfell to Brexit, British politics had a significant influence in all the galleries this year. A portrait of Nigel Farage hung below a painting of someone throwing up, Scream hung next to Vote to Love by Banksy, valued at £350 million (a random figure to pick *cough*).

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Scream (above) was almost excluded from selection but for a change of heart by Perry and the contrast it presented when hung next to Banksy’s Vote to Love.

That’s what I enjoyed most with this exhibition. It’s controversial, it’s mixed, it’s now. It’s not the political feelings and sentiments from hundreds of years ago, or even of a few decades ago, it’s real-timeIMG_2338 interpretations of people trying to make sense of the world around them. And regardless of whether art is left-wing or right, people on both sides enjoyed what they saw before them. People who clutched price lists and nothing more, others that consumed ample quantities of wine from the in-exhibition bar and debated which pieces to buy (or cursing themselves on missed chances). Everyone chuckled at a high hung piece that bluntly stated “RICH PEOPLE SMELL”. Left wing, but oddly unifying.

The human reaction to creativity has always fascinated me, how as individuals we engage with bits of framed canvas or random objects laid out for subjective review. I was at different exhibition in Bath Spa about a year ago when I overheard a room steward talking to a young couple about modern art.

“When it comes to modern art the most offensive thing you can do is not have an opinion. Love or hate, if something has created an emotion then the artist has done what they set out to do.”

In most galleries the average footfall is much more reduced and scattered, you barelyIMG_2374 hear more than the odd comment here and there. But at the Summer Exhibition there’s a buzz in every room, the taboo of silence when absorbing art has been thrown out the window and buried beneath the statue of Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard. For instance Harry Hill’s anatomical sculpture Welcome, Come on in and Close the Door (right) reminded me of the game Operation, yet it caused strong verbal reaction in a great many other viewers. Even the most far removed of works can be too realistic for some.

All Things Considered

The 250th Summer Exhibition was a fantastic display of talent, creativity and brashness. As Punch cartoons were to our predecessors, the vibrant creations on display represent an evolution of satire to now become items people are prepared to pay hundreds, if not thousands, for. It was clear that Perry’s influence in the banana-yellow Gallery III created an almost competitive spirit among the subsequent galleries to outdo the last with the overall aim to formulate a spectacle completely different and memorable to anything staged by its rivals. And you know what? It worked.

AEB

***

Ps…A Dash of Alice

Because there is always humour to be found in the most lifeless of things, here are a selection of images that inspired me to come up with funny straplines.

(From the model architecture exhibit room – Gallery VI)

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When your mate is way more invested in the telling of a story than you are listening.
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No wonder the theatre is empty, the acting is completely flat! (Here all week.)
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Dear Mr Boss Man, the only time I’m ever keen to get back to work is when you’re watching me like a creep.

(Elsewhere…)

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Still a better reception than the Cotswolds
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See, I told you a rug could solve all our problems with border control.
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Hmm, instead of a day out Hyde Park I seem to have become an overpriced art exhibit.
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When you accidentally stumble into the lair of London’s biggest equine gang #TheCobFather

The 250th Summer Exhibition runs until 19th August 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London. To find out more visit their website here.

And don’t forget…
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Betrayed by a Toblerone

he Repair Shop is on, but we can’t watch that because of your father.’

‘Is that because the clock repair guy?’

‘Yes.’

At which point Mumma Bennett quickly switched channel to the more favourable Homes Under the Hammer in case the family member suddenly made an appearance. (Although usually that occurrence is preceded with the sound of creaking floorboards and my sister calling out ‘the kraken has awoken!’ from her lady cave upstairs.)

To my dad, a clock maker, the clock repair fella on the aforementioned television program represents a sour relationship from a time now since passed. Their falling out was probably the only time I had to give counselling to my old man.

‘Perhaps I should call him again.’

‘Dad he’s not interested, if he was he’d have contacted you last week when you emailed him.’

‘But maybe he didn’t see it.’

‘Dad…I know it is hard to accept but perhaps it’s time to let go. Here, let me get you an ice cream.’

‘I’ve texted him.’

‘Right.’

And that’s the thing, to my dad the feeling of ES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230b6cdSELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac1betrayal SELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac142724SELRES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230wasn’t marked by a singular event but more ongoing jabs. How the other party continues to ghost my pa but happy to lap up minor celeb status as an apparent expert on horological affairs.

In a very different example people tend to interpret the Biblical Judas as a man who betrayed Jesus (I know, what a novel concept). In Christian theology Judas is seen as not a nice guy but then his actions in turning against Jesus led to the salvation of humanity. If he hadn’t turned Jesus in for 30 silver coins would we be in a better place than we are now? Would it be worse? Would Toblerones still be the same size? I guess there’s some things we’ll never know.

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Don’t, I can’t bear to look at it.

For me when it comes to defining a back-stabber I think of it as more someone that damages the reputation of oneself or one’s trade. Don’t get me wrong, when BankUK stuffed up my mortgage application I was pretty miffed about my treatment but on reflection (and having conducted a number of Financial e-learning courses) I see that what they did was incredibly immoral to the institution as a whole, as well as myself as a customer. It undermined the wider financial industry and the rules that govern lending.

I also see the creative efforts of certain authors, artists, directors etc. as a criminal act. I’m sure you can think of a multitude so I won’t name any in particular *cough* Twilight Saga *cough, cough* Burn After Reading. Such tragedies are anything but Shakespearian.

Also, why is it called “Good Friday” when something bad happened on it? I mean you don’t go ‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss Sally. Was it a “good” Monday?’ In terms of emotion I feel rather ‘meh’ today on Good Friday. More meh than good, which makes me question everything about my almost non-existent Christian card I use.

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“On Good Friday? JESUS DIED INDIA!”

“Wow…”

The concept of betrayal is more complex than we give it credit for. Does the pain of betrayal make us intelligent beings or are we human because we’ll use that intelligence to better ourselves no matter the cost? Are we no more than immature children (after all, wars have been started for little more than a perceived betrayal of treaties). I suppose it’s something scholars have discussed and argued over for many centuries and a topic that will be debated over for years to come.

***

Today’s WordPress prompt was Betrayed and given today is Good Friday I wonder over the choice of daily prompt (WordPress being, after all, a forum of all creeds and faiths). This post is admittedly rather forced and not my best (starting with such a fun topic to write about is like trying to make a puppy cute when its head is already half hanging off). It’s a hard task is all I’m saying.

On a lighter note, here’s a pop video about Moscow:

 

If you were unfulfilled before I hope you are now satisfied, if you held my work in high regard before I expect your expectations have been suitably lowered. I will not pass judgement on either.

Girl Gotta Read

Here’s a newsflash…I like books.

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I once read somewhere that book lovers never go to bed alone and well I’m that. I read books in pretty much every stereotypical place, including in bed and I’ve woken up with a book is on the pillow on more than one occasion (‘oh God, 50 Shades of Grey, we didn’t…?’) But at the same time another reason why I never go to bed alone is because my room is packed full of books. It’s only now when I’m (tying) to have a clear out that I’m beginning to realise quite how many feature in my life. Call it a bit of soul searching, because I don’t care if you’re Mr Rockefeller or if you saved fifty refugees from a burning missionary school, if you don’t have time for literature then this ain’t gonna work out.

Think I’m being a bit over the top? Well here are all the types/places I keep my books. Bear in mind as well that these are just the ones in my bedroom.

 

Alice’s Books

I have a pile of unread books…

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…And a pile of recently read books

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(Before you ask I do a little bit of yoga which subsequently means I’m now super flexible. I used to do more but I have reason to believe it contributed to stuffing up my knee eighteen months ago but that’s a story for another day.)

I store books on my window shelves which is great because it means I don’t need to open/close my Venetian blinds when I get up every morning (I call them my ‘modesty books’)

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(That’s right, I own four Blue Peter badges but that’s a story for another day.)

I have intellectual reads

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I possess old book buyer catalogues (in case I ever needed more coffee table material)

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I own a box of old books

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I have books on the waitlist for more permanent accommodation

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I also have a few Alice books (aka photo albums) with glossy memories I value more than pixels. One of the best friend presents I ever got was the album titled ’21 Things I Love About Alice Bennett’ (left).

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And do not get me started on notebooks

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Good news though, I’ve recently purchased an oak bookcase so now I can purchase and store even more books! (I kid, I really need to clear a lot of these out and move the rest to the book case – except my modesty books.)

Looking to take my conversation engagement from 0 to 60? Give me a book and tell me why my life is poorer without it.

A Renaissance Night Out

I was hanging out in the Ashmolean in Oxford yesterday. First up, I didn’t think it was possible for me but I was unable to view everything. I had a cultural overload. So I’ll be visiting there again soon. Secondly, spending some time in one of the Renaissance galleries I was reminded that the Italians, they knew how to party. In the same way I went to the Louvre in Paris and ended up scouting out the ugliest Jesus (so. Much. Religious. Art), I went to Oxford and found myself seeing (as well as the beautiful classics), seeing only the many stages of a lads night out.


 

A Night Out (As Told by Renaissance Art)

A few drinks to start the evening off, all well-meaning. Jeff is already dipping his hat in the wine, so you know it’s going to be a good one.

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From there you hit the town. You’re on fire tonight, waiting at the bar with all the ladies wanting your attention, although you can’t decide if you’re that committed to either.

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Next thing you know you’re getting roped into taking selfies with people you’ve never met.

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And suddenly things get very crazy and trippy.

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You stumble back home with your boys (Jeff isn’t there, did he even come out on the end?) and collapse in a heap. From what you can remember it has been a great night out.

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The next morning…

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The Holburne Museum and Art Gallery, Bath Spa (An Unofficial Guide)

With a frontage like this…

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…You wouldn’t think the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery was located just off the centre of Bath Spa (Somerset, England). And yet, quite a literal stone’s throw from the beating heart of the city is this little gem of a place. All you need to do is cross the river and follow the dead straight road and you’ll reach this at the end (gotta love a Georgian straight road, it’s as if they predicted the advent of Sat Navs and thought ‘nah, why bother. Just make all the roads straight instead.’)

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View from within looking out.

Originally a grand Georgian hotel, the building now houses the personal collection of Sir Thomas William Holburne and a great number of 17th and 18th Century artworks. Now, even though I studied History for three years, the only things it got me were £30,000 worth of debt and a couple of fun facts about executions, Victorian death rituals and lynch mobs. In short, I’m probably the last person on Earth to be providing a potted history for this place. For a timeline click here.

History aside, lets get onto the bit which 95% of my readership care about; how Alice’s brain has interpreted the contents of this museum (the other 5% Google searched ‘mermaids’ and are now bitterly disappointed by the contents of this site).

On the first floor is a room (and mezzanine above) which showcases the artefacts collected by Sir Thomas Holburne as well as family treasures.

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There is more to it than this, trust me.

Whenever I see a good deal of random antiquities in a room, all laid out and nicely presented I think about the condition such priceless items would have been kept in before the advent of museums. I mean, when you watch documentaries of hoarders in Cheshire you don’t think ‘oh, I wonder if there’s a cheeky Faberge Egg under that newspaper pile?’

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‘Now, where did I leave my 16th Century tapestry?’

See if I had a time machine that’s probably where I’d go, to the hoarding museums of the future. (I know right, why is this girl single?)

Funnily, when I went to the Holburne on a half day off I never expected to get home interior inspiration.

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I mean a quick reckie around Swindon’s charity shops and some suspension cable and you’re away. In my house it would be life affirming – if you manage a flight of stairs without a vase landing on your head then you know you’re going to have a good day. If not…well you’re probably getting a day or two off work (=good day!)

Moving onto the art exhibitions in the other rooms, on the same level I was reminded that throughout history the same statement rings true; if it’s done in the name of ‘art’ then anything goes. For example, do you know that feeling when you get turned into a stag by the Goddess of animals and then killed by your own hounds whilst meanwhile everyone is too wrapped up in the Lapith/Centaur battle to care?

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And you thought you were having a bad day.

In that sense you can’t really be too heavily critical about art because if you look at things through a sceptical eye it seems that everyone was/is on some form of hallucinogenic.

In the same room I felt equally reassured that I’m not the only one to have struggled with the perils of a dignified wet wipe wash.

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If Venus can do it, so can I.

There were also a number of nice portraits in the room which didn’t inspire any wit from me at the time so didn’t get photographed. In my defence I was too busy chuckling at people reacting to the massive piece of contemporary art in the room. Needless to say most people weren’t getting it.

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Michael Petry, A Line Lives in the Past and the Future

Upstairs then and on the second level was, you’ve guessed it, more pieces of priceless art. In a side room at the top of the stairs was a temporary exhibition on art of stage actors which gave me many a chuckle. This guy for instance could be relatable to any workplace environment…

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‘What overtime for free? Say what now?’ / ‘You want me to deliver Wembley stadium in four months? Are you actually kidding me?’ / ‘Mate, what the hell are you wearing?’ – the list goes on.

And I doubt anyone has spotted it but me, but there was a weird love triangle taking place on the wall opposite.

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‘This distance between us, it’s too much!’

(Directly below…)

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‘Just get a exhibition room already.’

Unfortunately one of the galleries was temporarily closed whilst a new exhibition was being fitted, which took me therefore into the last available gallery on my visit. It was an exhibit of stuffed exotic birds, hah, just kidding, it was another art gallery.

Now it could be just me, but do you ever find it trippy when there’s a painting in a painting? And you’re being invited to look at that said painting in a painting by the painted figures as if there’s deeper meaning in the painting’s painting? That if you stare at it long enough you’re expected to understand? And then you don’t get it so you read the description by the side of the painting and think ‘ah, ok’ then look back at the painting and still don’t get it? And then you question your intelligence, take a moment to remind yourself you have a degree in the Arts, before looking back at the painting and wondering why you wasted your time trying to understand something which, at best, is a fairly average painting and doesn’t make that much sense?

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It’s historic inception if you ask me.

In this gallery there were a number of very nice pieces of art work. The room steward and I had a lovely conversation about over a particular portrait. ‘He was well known for his ability to paint women. They used to say he was good with the wives of gentry.’ (The thirteen year old in me was making so many smirky comments it’s a wonder none of them got blurted out .)

Also, the lady in that particular exhibition dashed out after me and complimented me on the way I viewed the collection. Middle class win. Set me up right rosy for the afternoon that did.

After I viewed all the art I could handle, I stopped off in the café on the ground floor which for the record was really pleasurable. Art and coffee are the perfect mix anyway, but the coffee shop has been very stylishly done, with a glass backed wall facing the parks located at the back of the museum.

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First floor view of the back.

Also, nice toilets.

After I’d completed my wander round the Holburne I strolled the grounds to the back of the old grand hotel. This area had originally been billed as the luxury pleasure gardens for the hotel’s guests and as I walked over regal bridges that crossed the railway line and ambled up to various pieces of Georgian architecture, I could see why. It was the perfect way to finish my visit.

I came away from the Holburne thinking myself as a sophisticated individual (I didn’t spill any coffee on me that day = proof) and given the Holburne is a free to enter, privately run, establishment I’d certainly say it was worth an hour of anyone’s time, even if it’s just for the cake and 18th Century banter.

More information on the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery can be found here (external website).

This Could Be the Best Homemade Video Since Charlie Bit My Finger…*

(* – no promises made)

What does one get a family member who has everything? More to the point, what does one get a family member when one has no money, no time and has a terrible habit of writing in the ‘one’ tense? That’s right, she makes a truly amazing video featuring Phil Collins (obviously).

It seemed such a good idea to make a video for lil bub Bennett’s birthday, but then in truth I think I may have really just wanted to pay tribute to Phil Collins and feed my middle age condition (the one where people are born liking The Archers and consider staying up to watch the BBC News at 10 to be a ‘crazy’ one. Yeah, that one.) Anyway, I thought the video would be a nice thing to do for her.

20 hours later…

Brain dead, caffeine overdosed and fed up of seeing my sister’s face more than my own, I finally created a masterpiece. “She better love this” I thought, before dashing into Lush the next day to buy a back up present. Safe thing too, when I first presented her with the gift she seemed less than amused at the offering.

“Right. Ok, well that’s a very nice memory stick Ali, thank you.”

“No you donut, it’s what’s on the stick.”

“Oh right!”

“Did you seriously think I’d give you a cheap USB stick for your birthday?”

*Silence*

“Just play the video.”

Luckily, she loved it. And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have added that same video here. Enjoy! (Well as much as you can given you know nothing of my family and it’s in-jokes…if nothing else watch it for Phil.)

 

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Dancing

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Alice Bennett (for The National Student)

 

In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Titus Andronicus (currently showing in Stratford-Upon-Avon) all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roost. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.

Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns home to much praise from family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.

This 21st century adaptation of the Roman-based play sees actors in hoodies climb graffitied fences in the opening scenes, crying out for justice only to be swiftly beaten down by armed police officers. From my comfy seat I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before. That sadness that what I was seeing on stage was, is, happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.

This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with the great David Troughton. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. In under ninety minutes my civil nature was swept away in the rivers of blood that flooded the stage, I was hooked from the very start until the very end.

Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, watching this adaptation you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult and painful scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. There’s the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!

Rating: 5 stars

 

For more information, including showing times and tickets, visit the RSC’s website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/