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Published  02/06/2000
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Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 2000

Royal Academy

Summer Exhibition, 2000

Given the characteristic hubris of Tate Modern over the river, it is interesting and also reassuring to find the Royal Academy distinctively following its own direction, as if Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had never been, let alone Herzog and de Meuron. As a self-perpetuating, self-electing entity, and self-supporting, the Royal Academicians do survive by their wits. The fund-raising annual dinner traditionally draws a more established less self-conscious clientele than is evident at Tate Modern's functions, and still plumbs deep wells of affluence that treasure this surviving manifestation of English psyche.

To the dinner were bid Michael Portillo, Bruce Oldfield, Nicole Farhi. Under the enlightened presidency of the Sculptor, Phillip King, and accompanied in the hanging committee by Anthony Green and Peter Blake (the latter will be senior hanger in 2001) the talents that for many have graced the Summer Exhibition - such as Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones, and Blake himself, continue to show beside new or unknown artists in a mutual accessibility, before an enthusiastic public.

This is understandably still anathema to those artists of distinction today who long ago chose to stay outside (such as Ben Nicolson and Henry Moore in their time, Bridget Rile, Leon Kossoff, Lucien Freud, and even Anthony Caro - who still got an invitation.) There is however no lack of commitment at the Royal Academy to the future, pace, the Academicians. Future Summer Shows are expected to evolve a new formula, a different process of selection.

The present 'lottery-like' free-for-all brings with it enormous administration problems for the short-staffed Royal Academy. The fact that it is the Academicians who select does not alleviate, but rather aggravates what might otherwise be a relatively organised curatorial process. This year, some 9,000 works were submitted, of which about 1,200 were actually hung. This remains an amazing, idiosyncratic, and splendidly unbureaucratic, even radical way, to insist on. And yet, in its essentially British pattern, it has something in common too with Crufts Dog Show, say: or the Chelsea Flower Show; en masse to apply an obsequiousness of curatorial efficiency over detail and category: or else to go over to an acquiescent omnivalence designed to suit all tastes. Or something completely different. Or more or less of the same. We await developments.

This year there remain memorable highlights; with a sculptor of major international distinction such as Phillip King, as President of the Royal Academy, sculptors stand strong: David Nash's Pyramid Square cube is noteworthy. There is a superb Proktor painting entitled "Hove": this is redolent of his 1970s Venice seascapes, and as seductive. Paolozzi and Blake allow in the American Frank Stella, whose Die Marquise von O. dominates its allotted space. But then, if you are an invited guest, so you may.

 

 

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