We take a look at British painter Jock McFadyen’s curation of over 1,500 works of art that delve into contemporary identity and politics, which was the subject of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2019.
Last year, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition made an almighty splash, celebrating its 250th anniversary with a visual extravaganza coordinated to great acclaim by Turner Prize-winning potter, tapestry-maker and curator Grayson Perry. With his flamboyant, satirical touch, humorous juxtapositions and pops of vibrant wall colour, Perry brought new energy to the world’s longest-running open-submission art show.
His was a tough act to follow. But British painter Jock McFadyen has risen to the challenge with aplomb, curating a sprawling showcase of more than 1,500 works of art (whittled down from an incredible 16,000 entries by big names and graduates alike) that explore our world today.
From Brexit Britain and climate change to immigration and split identities, this year’s show tackles it all. There’s a room dedicated to sustainability and the environment, and one to human passions across cultures and time. Political art gets a look-in, too. Banksy’s anti-Brexit Keep Ou installation made out of a repurposed EU arrivals gate from Heathrow Airport packs a stinging punch at the exhibition’s entrance, while Jeremy Deller’s banner announcing that “we are all immigrant scum” challenges us to think twice.
Elsewhere, panoramic photographs, figurative ink drawings and gritty urban landscapes by unknown hands nestle happily alongside works by some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including Anselm Kiefer, Tracey Emin and Conrad Shawcross.
Standout highlights of the exhibition include Chantal Joffe’s piercing self-portrait in oil; a ravishing painterly composition by abstractionist Frank Bowling, whose long-awaited retrospective runs concurrently at Tate Britain; and a delicate charcoal study of a dancer by modernist William Tucker. Then, of course, there’s the animal “menagerie” boasting a life-size tiger coated in Tunnock’s Teacake wrappers by David Mach.
Outside, there’s even more to see: Thomas Houseago’s collection of mind-boggling sculptures loom large in the Annenberg Courtyard, while a colourful flag installation by Sir Michael Craig-Martin flies high over neighbouring Bond Street.
As ever, there’s an overwhelming amount to see. But taken as a cohesive whole, this exhibition draws a poignant portrait of our times. Love it or loathe it, its impact is difficult to ignore.
The Summer Exhibition, royalacademy.org.uk