RA Summer Exhibition

Went to the RA Summer Exhibition yesterday, which was – well, quite overwhelming actually. Talking about it afterwards with the other people I went with, we all managed to miss quite a few things – I don’t think I’ve ever been to an exhibition with quite so many varied pictures before. But – it was fascinating, it made me realise that I know virtually nothing about contemporary art, and I’ll definitely be back next year. Anyway, there was so much there that it’s difficult to say much meaningful about it, so I’ll stick to some basics: it helped me realise that I particularly like gloomy things (despite what I said about primary colours recently), and I find trees endlessly fascinating. I like Matthew Ablitt’s etching, By the Moon (left), for example – dark (rather than necessarily gloomy) and somehow romantic. I am still in love with Jeff Koons’ egg, though – and it’s even better in situ, since it’s bigger, bluer and shiny than I’d expected, yet so fragile (apparently if it is touched it has to be repainted), and, best of all, it reflects the domed, skylighted ceiling above it spectacularly.

I was also quite taken with Jean Cooke’s Dream Dream (right) – both child-like but with the dark lilies seeming to be a portent of something threatening. I’m no art critic, but I just find it fascinating to see what certain paintings make me feel. I wished I could buy some – many were much more affordable than I expected – but I restrained myself – this year…
What surprised me – and this shows my ignorance of contemporary art, perhaps – is how traditionally representative many of the works were, which led to a discussion about the purpose of art: I suppose I’ve always been one of those slightly (no, sorry, very) pretentious-sounding people who thinks that the arts make the world, educate, inform, whatever – but of course, perhaps sometimes it’s just meant to be decorative (can it ever “just” be decorative?) I have to think about this. As Aristotle said (and it’s true for all the arts), “poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are rather of the nature of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.” True – but the exhibition was also a warning not to be too high-flown about stuff – some of it we took with a pinch of salt and a few giggles, and I was fascinated by the people standing around what looked like a lampshade saying, “This is deeply meaningful”. Deeply something, anyway.

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