Until 14 August 2010
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Why does one have to resort to French expressions to describe a very English thing? Déjà vu, for one; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, for another. Even, fighting the old ennui? So, here we go again.
One thousand, four hundred and seventy-four works of ‘art’, whittled down from over 11,000 entries, displayed over the whole of the RA, except the Sackler Wing, which was still hosting the Zoffany exhibition. One dares not even contemplate what the rejected nine and a half thousand were like. The head curator this year is Tessa Jaray RA, who took the brave decision to give over the largest gallery to small paintings, and the overall effect is like releasing a flock of caged birds into the wild. In previous years they were stacked up, cheek by jowel; in Gallery III, they breathe, soar, float, fly, and it is only when one gets closer, the true nature of some of the beasts is evident. One of the very worst is entitled Friends needed! by Robert Eisner, which is simply a disgrace.
Ms Jaray said she would stand by every one of the five hundred paintings on the wall. This critic would not like to stand anywhere near this gripper. There were many others that should never have migrated from the studio or spare bedroom to Piccadily, but a few shone out; hard to miss Albert Irvin’s vibrant acrylic Greet 2012, or the delightful Along the Ridge by Clyde Hopkins, while (too) high up on the wall is a striking oil by Michael Ajerman called the The Guidance Councellor.
Mick Rooney had six most pleasing tempera paintings on show, two of which were in this gallery. There were, we were told, five works by Afghan artists, which she said had been difficult to secure, but this brought into question just how the selection is made. She also said that they were trying to attract a younger element to submit. I asked her how she knew that the works being rushed past a selection committee were by younger artists, but she gave no satisfactory answer.
Remember, this is the same woman who said about the gallery she curated last year, ‘these works were only for people who were sensitive, intelligent and thoughtful. No-one else will enjoy it. The works are delicate, subtle and rich.’
The prints room is peopled by the usual suspects, like Norman Ackroyd, Tom Phillips, Barbara Rae, Joe Tilson and Chris Orr, who curated the gallery, producing the same style of work, because, presumably, they sell. One difference was Bill Jacklin, who has tried to move away from his smudged bathers and skaters and produce something a little more mystic, which is not all that successful.
In another gallery, he has an oil painting called Parkway I, which has great depth in its dappled shade, but in the penultimate gallery, he has another oil entitled Battery Park under the Tree, NYC 1, redolent of Seurat bumping into Manet on the grass, which a poor picture, certainly by his standards.
It is not helped by being hung next to a stunning painting by George Bazelitz called Frau Manets Rechter Fuß. It is said that Tom Lehrer stopped writing satirical verse when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. There was the same knee-jerk reaction when Tracey Emin was made Professor of Drawing at the RA Schools, and, to prove the point, Dame Trace has some of her daubs on display, polymer gravures at four hundred quid a pop.
Humphrey Ocean has such economy of line, he makes Matisse look fussy, and his Shed, Swerve and Ship look so simple, but patently, are not. Cornelia Parker is turning into a one-trick pony, with another old piece of flattened silverware suspended on wire; great the first few times, but surely there must be other things to flatten with a 250-ton press?
The architectural gallery is dealt with by KCTODAY architectual correspondent Atrium, but it should be mentioned that Will Alsop has broken out of the 3-D room, where is his ‘witty’ model of Neuron Pod for Queen Mary University, and into the ‘proper’ painters’ section, with an enormous acrylic painting entitled A School of Architecture. Will has not lost his sense of humour in the transition, augmented by the price tag of £45,000. Ah well, back to Gallic aphorisms - Plus ça change . . .