Royal Academy of Arts: Summer Exhibition 2015


Leading British artist and teacher, Michael Craig-Martin, is this year’s co-ordinator of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Focusing on showcasing ‘vibrant’ colours, he has devised a new layout of the main galleries and focused on a significant number of mature artists to exhibit this year.

The first and most striking work you’ll see is Jim Lambie’s signature ‘Zobop’, a multi-coloured installation, commissioned for the main staircase. Vibrant stripes of almost edible looking vinyl tape cover every step, intending to challenge our perception of the classic architecture of the RA building.

The central hall at the top of the staircase is dominated by a large, suspended installation, Liam Gillick’s ‘Applied projection rig’. Following Craig-Martin’s theme of vibrant colour, this meticulously designed structure supports a selection of precisely cut panels of bold translucent colour. This dramatic piece is complimented by Matthew Derbyshire’s central sculpture, ‘Captcha no.11’, a modern take on a classical sculpture, which brings a 3D digital model of a man into reality with sheets of thermoplastic (a material primarily used in skylights) and stainless steel. Blurring the line between digital and reality.

Another work in the central hall which caught my eye was the political piece ‘Blood of sweat’ by El Anatsui. A large hanging construction of found metals, it had a beautiful fragility to it and, contrasted with the harsh metal it was made from, helped to draw a parallel between waste and transformation.

The adjoining rooms also held some intriguing pieces. ‘Mimic (Black)’ by Paul Hosking was another striking work, echoing Matisse’s stained glass windows, Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. The black, gold and blue mirrors were mesmerising, and upon closer inspection, you could see their relation to Hosking’s inspiration of ‘Perceptual psychology’ with this self reflective Rorschach Test.

‘Amer Fort and Orange Yellow’ was the first photograph to capture my attention. This stunning digital print by Guler Ates illuminated a mysterious woman, draped in a heavy fabric. It’s the continuation of the exploration of Ates’ feelings of dual identity through the emotive issue of the veiled woman.

Anthony Green’s ‘The Birds/ A Second Marraige’ and ‘The Bureau/ Afternoon Sun’ in the next room provided a quintessentially English portrait of middle-class life. Challenging the traditional rectangular canvas, these irregular pieces truly stood out with their fragmented and cubist-like forms.

Sir Anish Kapoor also contributed a piece simply called ‘Untitled’. A small, freestanding acrylic cube holds a beautiful succession of bubbles, forever immortalised, continuing one of his main themes of presence and absence.

‘I just want to be held’ was another intriguing photo by Deborah Brown. A fragile naked body, covered in spiky burrs hung appropriately next to a sculpture by Margaret Proudfoot, a geographical map of barbed wire entitled ‘War Work (Ypres)’. The wire appears surprisingly fragile, showing the fragility of the boundaries they encompass.

‘Face’, a large, haunting charcoal portrait by Caroline Broadway in the adjacent room grabbed my attention. Broadway’s work could almost be talked about as a documentary, bringing together the photo-realism of documentary photography with fine art. The soft gaze of her chosen subject was mesmerising.

Tall Boy, a cabinet of curiosities by Cathie Pilkington stood out like a macabre nightmare against the cheerful blue walls of the final room. Her placement of ‘ordinary’ craft materials – reconstructed and de-constructed dolls bring a tremendously uncanny feel to the piece, which may lure you in with it’s dark humour, or have you running away with chills down your spine.

Over 1,000 artworks are on display at the RA this year, each one fighting for attention in the small space they’ve been allotted. It’s the kind of exhibition you need to visit twice in order to take everything in. There are an overwhelming number of fantastic pieces, and it’s difficult to give each one the attention they truly deserve.

The Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition runs until 16th August 2015. For more information and tickets, including a new ‘Explorer’ app to see all the works online, visit