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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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).

“I went to get Coffee but Came Back With Cava”: Lanzarote, Canary Islands

“…Right, so how are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers out of the country?”

“Well you’ll have made friends with a gigolo in the airport flying out.”

“When would you do that?”

“At check in. You get talking to her and strike up a friendship at that point. Then you find a way to damage her case at the airport on the other side, you apologise and offer to replace the damaged case. She accepts and then you supply her with a case with the goods stitched in on the inside.”

“You got a Roman chariot style attack planned? You’re going to attach spikes to the wheels of your case? And when are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers sewn in?”

“Alice, you know Jammy Dodgers is a euphemism for something else? We’re not talking about smuggling biscuits into Britain.”

“Is Lanzarote even the best place for smuggling drugs? I’d have gone for Latin America.”

“No, other than Alice’s smuggling of apricots I don’t think this island has much going for it. You’d do this in Mexico or the like.”

“What if the woman you befriend has a bright pink case? She’s not going to accept your scrotty old substitute.”

“Come to think about it, how are you planning on making friends in check-in? ‘Hello, nice case. You could stuff a lot of Jammy Dodgers in there’? No offense Dad, but I would hardly rush to exchange numbers if you randomly approached me with that opener.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you just pay her to bring the drugs in whilst you’re abroad and then murder her in the car park?”

“Well yes, but in doing so you’ve committed a worse crime than the one you were trying to cover up.”

“Remind me again how we ended up on this topic?”

***

“Pull over here! I need to post something!”

“You’re not posting your local election ballot are you?”

“No comment!”

It was 3:30am, the car was filled with baggage and the village post box was one letter fuller. I hopped back into the Volvo and we sped on towards the airport.

The Bennett holiday had begun.

This Easter the destination of choice was the Canary Island of Lanzarote. Spanish by nationality but located just off the coast of the African continent, the Canary Islands are uniquely blessed to have pleasantly hot temperatures early in the year while maintaining a laid-back Mediterranean culture. The warm climate was far from an automatic pleaser for everyone. As we stood waiting for our bags at Arrecife airport, a fellow passenger could be heard complaining down the phone over the amount of cloud cover outside. Trust a British tourist to moan about the weather thirty minutes after landing.

This wasn’t the first bemusing thing to happen on the holiday. That award would go to the poor directional signage that resulted in the entire plane accidently bypassing Spanish boarder control. As we walked down the ramp parallel to the booths, the border guards watched the heard of pale faced Brits with a mixture of confusion and disinterest.

 

“I wonder if they’ll be so lax once we’re out of the EU.” I muttered to India.

Bags collected, the reps verbally directed us to the buses. We hopped onto our coach and listened to the mumblings of a secondary rep (“what’s she saying?” “I don’t know, I think something about Pablo Paella’s Casa or the welcome meetings. To be honest I’m barely listening.”) The young lady leapt off, the coach doors closed and we departed.

This time around we were headed to the resort of Costa Teguise on the South-Western side of the island. Because we’re middle class this was to be the fourth time at the resort, although this time around the holiday planner (alias Mumma Bennett) had booked the hotel Teguise Grand Playa which was considerably closer to the pretty town of Teguise compared to the one we’d been to four years ago. After the terrible sun burns of 2013 when we badly misinterpreted the strength of the UV rays, we learnt several valuable lessons. A) always pack sun cream b) remember the pastiness of one’s skin and c) town is never a “fifteen-minute walk away”.

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mid-afternoon people judging, sorry, watching.

Anyway, to get back on topic, the Costa Teguise Playa is a lovely hotel, situated right on the beach (it is quite literally a stone’s throw away). This location suited me very nicely. During the day the beach was a hubbub of activity in the form of sunbathers, scuba divers and swimmers, but at dawn the little piece of man-made coast was completely empty of all human-shaped life. Granted it took me about five days to get into the practice of early starts, but for those few mornings where I ventured down to the beach at 7am the views were wonderful. I could listen to the sea, yoga a little and relax.

Within the walls of the hotel I learnt a couple of new things. Firstly, this man has a very high voice:

And secondly I discovered that Leo Sayer is still as relevant a figure today as he’s ever been. At least four times Papa Bennett got mistaken for the 70s pop star/icon/legend. For anyone not in the know, here’s Sayer’s music/photo next to Papa Bennett’s…

Don’t get me wrong, at first it was utterly hilarious seeing drunk British tourists rush up to Papa Bennett and ask him to sing You make Me Feel Like Dancing, or say “my wife absolutely loves you!” But in time it got bit much. When you’re put on edge because someone stumbling towards you way want an autograph, or ask what it’s like being Leo Sayer’s daughter on tour you start to wish Leo Sayer had been a one-hit wonder.

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Photo with Leo Sayer. Moral of the story: never meet your idols.

As well a large consumption of sparkling Cava wine which was served from breakfast to midnight free of charge (this post’s title being a choice quote by yours truly), our merry quartet also partook on an island tour whilst visiting Lanzarote. We’d already done the volcano tours some years ago, so this time around we went on a voyage of discovery to learn about the famous contemporary artist César Manrique who lived on the island. The tour stopped off at a number of the sculptures, paintings and buildings Manrique designed. Here is a summary of that tour in the form of a collage:

We saw some really beautiful things and all took away something different from the trip. Mumma Bennett was overwhelmed by art:

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I meanwhile struggled to comprehend why anyone would have a semi-transparent (external) bathroom wall.
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India on the other hand had her perceptions on nature and art transformed by a Cactus Garden, from this…
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…to this:
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(Coming soon to MHAM, a post dedicated to the Jardin de Cactus. The transformation will be explained!)
And as for Papa Bennett, well he felt compelled to do this:
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(And we still don’t know why.)
Other than that we all took pleasure in having a very laid back holiday. In the daytime we’d explore the local area and sit on the beach/by the pool and at night we’d drink cocktails and sip on spirits and chat away the hours. Some would probably look at this as mundane and very predictable but in fact it was anything but. Only after a few rounds of seemingly harmless drinks would the most random conversations come up. The opening of this post is one such example, another was a theoretical debate over how one would go about committing suicide with a Christmas Tree. Admittedly these were not conversations which one walks into at 10am on a Monday, nor are they discussions which anyone walking past, English or not, would be able to jump straight into. They are odd, random and sometimes a bit wrong but they are so the conversational glue of the Bennett family unit.
The local shops near to the hotel were filled with the standard tourist tat and other random items including mug clocks and washing machine covers.
I also think it says a lot about us as a family when we gather as one to admire this:
As we got to the end of the holiday I felt it was time to leave Lanzarote and return to normal life in the UK.  I had obtained my fill of sun, sea and endless sangria and was ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of Weetabix. I’d also a) taken a good couple of kilos of apricots and tea from the hotel to bring back home and b) broken our tour operator’s information board.
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To stay any longer would be putting me, my family and Brexit negotiations in danger.
Overall, it was a great holiday in a fabulous location (as per usual, thanks to Mumma Bennett). And it shall always be remembered as the Lanzarote holiday where three of us worshipped the sun and art while Leo Sayer worshipped the sparkling wine.
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