Alastair Sooke goes behind-the-scenes of the Royal Academy's 244th Summer Exhibition, the biggest open-submission contemporary art show in the world.
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Welcome to this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the 244th,
which promises to be not bigger but certainly better than ever before!
There's lots going on in the capital this summer,
we've already celebrated the Queen's Jubilee
and the Olympics will soon be kicking off.
But first, here's a sample of what we've got in store for you tonight...
I descend into the Royal Academy's vaults
to select the artists I think will make it into the final show.
And go behind the scenes of the frantic two-week hang.
Move this up to...
New RA member Michael Landy uncovers the weird and wonderful rituals
that surround the Summer Exhibition.
And psychotherapist Philippa Perry paints me a psychological portrait
of those who enter each year.
To show someone your art, to say, "Accept me or reject me,"
is a little bit like dancing naked in the street, isn't it?
It's, "This is me..."
Andrew Graham-Dixon and Sir Anthony Caro
pay tribute to the late John Hoyland,
and actress Emilia Fox gives her verdict on the finished show.
Plus we reveal the winner
of this year's £25,000 Wollaston Award.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is a staple of the arts calendar,
an annual ritual that's greeted with eager celebration by some,
and knowing derision by others.
Personally, I am a big fan of the show.
And, it appears, I'm not alone!
Well, I love it because it's bonkers, that's what I love about it.
It's a festival of the abundance of the imagination and painting.
Where else can you get a mash-up between the village art show
and the best of contemporary art today?
And for all that,
we need to thank the very first president of the Royal Academy,
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who got the whole thing started 244 years ago.
In January 1769,
rules were drawn up for the very first Summer Exhibition.
Any artist who wanted to submit work,
had to do so by 6.00 on Friday 14th April.
No latecomers admitted!
When the exhibition opened its doors just nine days later,
139 works were on display in the galleries.
But of those, only seven were by amateur artists.
But that was 243 years ago. Things are a little different today.
The Summer Exhibition is now the world's largest open-submission art show,
attracting thousands of hopefuls, both amateur and professional,
from this country and abroad.
This year, over 11,000 tried their luck.
My chances of getting in? Small, but you know...
if you don't try, you never know.
I like a bet. And... I suppose, I don't know... 25 to 1.
What's Hockney got that I haven't got?
Over the course of a frantically busy week in March,
they descended on the Royal Academy,
armed with their treasured artworks.
It's called The Abuse Of A Continent.
It's called Strawberry Topping
and I've made the background to look like cream.
They're all hoping their works will catch the eye of the judges.
You've got to make a big impact right off.
big works aren't quite what the judges are looking for this year.
It turns out that that the person in charge this year
is concentrating on smaller works, and mine is huge, but whatever.
They shouldn't refuse it. If they do, they're just silly!
But for all the bluff, there's a lot riding on this.
For some, it's a chance to show the world
they've taken a new direction in life.
I want to be an artist. I'm a white van man at the moment.
I was an economist.
I was a builder till about three years ago,
till this recession came along, and I decided I'd follow my passion
and do what I enjoy.
Months and sometimes years of hard work are loaded in, unwrapped,
scanned, and then delivered into the laps of the Gods.
The Gods in this case are the Royal Academicians,
whose eye-popping task is to judge every piece submitted
at a dizzying rate of four paintings per minute!
They might not get long,
but all 11,000 works are individually scrutinised.
Can you come a bit closer?
This morning has been by turns dire and encouraging.
Some things never go away... kittens, less said the better.
It's a huge mixture, it goes from the really, really brilliant works,
of which there aren't that many, to the completely horrendous
and sometimes those two are rather close, actually.
In what many regard as the art world's equivalent to Russian Roulette,
the vast majority of works don't make it
and are summarily dismissed with an X.
We have to be tough,
if we didn't, we'd have 20,000 pictures on the wall,
you'd be able to see nothing.
For the few that do meet with the judges' approval,
they get marked with a rather curious symbol
that belongs to traditions of old.
Give that a D.
This is the D, which means, effectively,
it's accepted for the time being.
I wouldn't mind giving that a D.
D stands for Doubtful, which means we're still thinking.
As these curious implements suggest,
the way the selection committee still operates
has changed little since 1876.
Or even 1976.
Presidents down the ages have exercised their right to say
when they felt something was wrong.
No, thank you.
All that nay-saying can be thirsty work.
Another ritual that's been passed down through the ages
is the infamous Beef Tea.
It's very welcome, any time of the day or night.
I sort of would prefer strong coffee, I think, but I'm game.
Are we obliged to drink it?
No, no, we go voluntarily to our early grave!
The first year I tried the Beef Tea I was rollicking all day,
quite a lot of booze.
Newcomer Tess Jaray has rather let the cat out of the bag,
the Beef Tea's magic ingredients are a fiercely guarded secret.
I think it's a mixture of Bovril and Sherry.
I don't know who came up with this concoction
in the first place, but they're obviously a comedian.
I'm not a huge lover of Bovril and I definitely don't like sherry.
Someone who is fascinated by all the habits and history
that surrounds the Summer Exhibition is artist Michael Landy.
It's not too bad actually, I thought it was going to be a lot...
Yeah, that's quite nice, especially the Bovril.
It kind of hides the sherry. It's actually really quite nice.
I've drunk a lot worse.
Currently Artist In Residence at the National Gallery,
Landy first made his name in the late '80s as one of the YBAs.
He was made a Royal Academician just four years ago
but still feels a bit of a new boy.
It's a weird institution
and they have all those weird rituals and all those kind of things.
I think that's... I mean, I didn't really know what I was joining
when I joined up, you get introduced to the ball machine,
to sanctioning day, all those kind of things that you kind of learn.
There's no booklet. No-one gives you a booklet, maybe that would help.
A booklet to read about it all.
But I like all those things, that's part of why you join up, isn't it?
For all those kind of quirky things.
To satisfy his curiosity,
Michael went to the Royal Academy's library,
to quiz Mark Pomeroy, the archivist.
So how do they select the Summer Exhibition?
It's an extended, wearying, exhausting process,
because you have upwards of 12,000 works of art,
but not everybody gets through, so this is the big...
But if you're an RA you normally do get through.
-Yes, you do.
-That's a relief.
-You're all right, not everyone...
You haven't seen what I'm going to do,
so it could be they may make an exception in my case.
We've got plenty of instances where works from Academicians
were rejected, so you're not home free yet.
Oh, really? I could resign on a matter of principle.
Here we've got Augustus John. This is 1938.
And he says, "After the crowning ineptitude of the rejection
"of Wyndham Lewis's picture, I feel it is impossible for me
"to remain longer a member of the Royal Academy
"and I am writing to Lamb, tendering my resignation."
So they've rejected a painting
in the selection for the Summer Exhibition.
And they've accepted his resignation?
Well they've begged him to stay, obviously, it's Augustus John.
This telegram's what he sent.
"Very sorry, just going away, cannot alter decision. John."
But it wasn't long before he changed his mind.
And this is the other thing,
all these resignations, people like to come back.
-Oh, they come back?
-They come back.
It's hardly worth resigning then if you're going to come back.
-It's more fun, because then you can resign again.
Now here's a ritual I love to perform each year,
it's the bit where I get to descend deep into the vaults
of the Royal Academy where all of the D's are stored,
to make my selections of works that I think stand a particularly good chance
of making it into the Summer Exhibition.
So here they all are! This is the chosen few!
Over 1,000 works that have already met with the initial approval
of the selection committee.
And now it's my turn to play God.
The game is, I'm going to try and second guess the judges,
and see if, amongst this lot, I can pick out a few candidates
that I think really deserve to make it over the final hurdle.
To help me make my selection, the Royal Academy have loaned me
two of their expert art handlers.
Where shall we start? Shall we start looking here at these smaller ones?
Hang on. That's quite sweet.
Two girls with a man who's naked, with the face of a wolf,
called The Predators, not sure if they are the predators or he is.
Look at this!
I mean that is immediately, technically...
-It's exquisite, isn't it?
-It's really well done.
And you know what it reminds me of,
those early Freuds that were so beautiful...
and this is made using egg tempera!
That went out of fashion about 500 years ago.
I think for that reason alone, we should add that in.
That's a definite.
The first work that's caught my eye is by painter Robin Lee Hall.
The title of the piece I've submitted is The Clever Young Man,
and he came like Greg and just modelled for me from time to time
and he was a fascinating character because he had a fascinating life.
He was a very clever guy.
What appeals to me about egg tempera is
that it has a quality that no other paint has.
They haven't yet invented a paint that mimics egg tempera.
There's this wonderful luminosity to the paint.
It's basically egg yolk and powered colour put together to create paint.
It's a very ancient medium, I think the ancient Egyptians used it.
I would be absolutely thrilled if I got in this year
because I've probably entered the Summer Exhibition
about a dozen times or so times over many years
and I've actually only got in once,
which was 2008 and I was really happy, really happy, I was elated.
And that is not what I was expecting to see at all!
Tomato Stitchup. Genius!
What the hell is that?
You do get a lot of fantasies.
Right, let's move on. Wow, cross-eyed parrots!
Look at this! We've got to have this in.
-This is quite impressive. Is this a straight photograph?
-It says so here, yes.
-What's going on here?
-It's a digital sepia print.
Do you think that's been manipulated?
Yes, it's entitled Choices.
I suppose you're meant to imagine the many different routes
you could drive across this, it looks like a desert landscape
but it feels lunar, doesn't it?
It feels like the tracks left behind by Armstrong
and the rest of the brigade that went up to the Moon.
I think that's quite impressive.
My second choice is by photographer Scott Mead.
From the age of 12, 13, something like that,
I was fascinated by photography,
and my grandfather was a press photographer and journalist
and occasionally took me along to photo shoots,
and around the age of 13, he gave me an old press camera.
But as I moved into my mid to late 20s,
I parked that artistic side of myself
and for the next 17 or 18 years, I lived a 24/7 life, in finance.
For whatever reason, and I still can't tell you exactly why,
three years ago, I decided to go up into the attic
and take a look at the ten or so large boxes of prints, negatives,
all sorts of paraphernalia that were up there.
The experience, I have to say, was truly overwhelming.
I just felt a surge of intensity, passion.
I felt like somebody who'd been asleep for 25-30 years,
a sort of modern Rip Van Winkle.
One of the ones I found was the negative for Choices,
and what this is about is the process, the journey,
the choices that we all consider,
think about and ultimately have to make in life.
I always had a promise that I was going to make a major change before the age of 50,
back to those years in my 20s when I'd been living an artistic life
and that in many ways has been the greatest reward of all,
to see things again.
Now what's going on here?
This is a photograph of a load of classical busts.
So this immediately feels like I've gone into...
I'm on a slightly boring trip into a National Trust house,
being dragged aground my mum and dad when I'm little
and then there's a pair of female legs
alluringly appearing around the corner,
which is actually very clever and quite amusing because of course
the whole convention of having a bust is slightly odd and arbitrary,
that your body's cut off from beneath the shoulders.
I like it, I like that image, I think it's been well composed.
Let's have it. We'll take that.
I think that will make it in.
The third work I've gone for is The Corridor by Liane Lang.
I started casting figures at the RA schools
when I was a student there,
and then I started posing them for photographs.
That was really the intention right from the beginning,
that they wouldn't be used as sculptural objects,
but that they would be part of another work.
I think of part of my work as performance art without performers,
there is nobody in the room, I'm photographing essentially
an empty space and the figure is a suggested presence,
I think of them as spectral presences,
like slightly haunted spaces.
I go into public spaces and I create an intervention
or I make a change to a public monument
and it does feel a bit like a thing you shouldn't be doing
and sometimes you in fact shouldn't be doing it
and you have to do it very quickly.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition has the big advantage
of attracting a huge audience that you wouldn't otherwise get
into your contemporary art gallery,
and that probably otherwise would never see your work.
And also, you get the surprise of who you're going to be hung next to,
there's some very exciting artists in the Summer Exhibition.
Now on to sculpture.
Like the judges when they first view the works submitted,
I'm going to have to make my selection from photographs.
Quite a tricky thing to do.
That I find really disturbing, sometimes disturbing can be good,
dark can be good, but that one I think I would leave.
That's a kind of mixture of porcelain and coke bottles.
Now I'm not sure I like one at all.
This, on the other hand, is completely bonkers, and good.
I quite like this, there's a sort of double sculpture of two figs
and I don't know what they are,
maybe they're cast in bronze and painted.
I quite like them because they seem quite surreal.
I'm going to take a punt and back those figs.
This pair of bronze figs are the work of sculptor, Veda Hallowes.
My first career was as a nurse, and then an intensive care nurse,
and after a bit, I just didn't want to do it any more.
I took a long, hard look at my life
and decided I may as well do what I loved, which was the sculpture.
Initially, I wanted to do figurative work
but after about ten years I did anthropomorphic fruits,
I would do a pear and it would look like a pear,
but was it, because it had a bottom.
They were very ambiguous pieces, quite sensual in way,
but very ambiguous.
I've submitted to the Summer Exhibition about four or five times, I think,
and I am very aware that with something like the Summer Exhibition
it is the luck of the draw
because it depends not only on the quality of your work
but on who the selection committee is
and what look they're going for that year.
So sometimes very good pieces get in and sometimes very good pieces don't,
and sometimes less good pieces do get in
because they're looking for a particular thing that year
and that's fair enough.
I know it's in the nature of a competitive show
like the Summer Exhibition that you risk rejection.
But that doesn't mean it isn't painful when it happens.
And I should know because a few years ago, I did submit a work,
a sincere work of art, which I was hoping would get in.
And I got rejected. And you know what?
At the time, I felt gutted.
What I could really have done with is a good old spot of therapy.
Philippa Perry knows all about rejection,
she's a writer and psychotherapist,
who also happens to be married to the artist, Grayson Perry.
I'm quite glad I found you, Philippa,
because in a sense I am still smarting from the rejection
I experienced from the Summer Exhibition all those years ago.
I submitted a work. It was a conceptual portrait of my mum.
It was a very sort of bulbous jar of red lentils.
As a child, my earliest memory of my mother, who has red hair,
was that she prepared in a kitchen not dissimilar to this,
lots of food using these red lentils, she had red hair,
and I thought this was an emotional, warm, proper thing,
that I could submit.
Anyway, the RA didn't get any of that.
And it got an X, it got rejected.
And then, how did you feel when that happened?
I felt a bit upset because there was, I know it sounds ridiculous,
but there was some genuine thought that had gone into it.
Am I guessing this wrong, if you feel that not only your work
was rejected, but they've sort of rejected your mother
as they've rejected this representation of you mother?
Was that meaning there as well in the rejection?
If that meaning was there latently, that subsequently came out for real,
because the following year - she's an artist herself -
and she submitted a couple of paintings,
and both of them got rejected.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition committee does not like
the Sooke household, clearly, when it comes to...
Is that what you're telling yourself,
that they really don't like the Sookes?
It's chipped away at the self-esteem, yeah.
You've woven a story there, as though you are disliked,
and you know how it's done.
You know they select work that fits in
with work they're going to show anyway.
So you can submit the most fantastic work of art in the world,
and it still might get rejected because it doesn't fit in with
the theme or the scheme they've got going for that year.
So couldn't you weave yourself another story around that?
Well, that would be the clever, mentally strong thing to do but...
'I realised talking to Philippa, I didn't deal too well with rejection.
'I wonder if the artists I've selected as front-runners
'for the Summer Exhibition are made of tougher stuff?'
What life is about is putting yourself out there
and being open to new experiences, new challenges.
That's going to necessarily involve rejection in one form or another.
All art, I guess, is a reflection of one's own inner self
and so I feel a little vulnerable sometimes
putting work out into a large public exhibition.
I have to admit that when, if I get rejected by someone,
I do tend to think that there's obviously something wrong with their judgement.
There are days where you've put in a good piece and you think,
"Well, God," you know, "I think that stood a chance of getting in."
And it gets rejected.
And you do a little bit of soul-searching about
why did it get rejected?
You know, what was the matter with it?
To make work, in a way, it's quite a vulnerable making thing to do,
to show someone your art, to say, "Accept me or reject me,"
is a little bit like dancing naked in the street, isn't it?
It's, "This is me... Aagh!"
It's a bit scary. Why would you do that to yourself?
And I suppose it's because of hope.
Hope that even through I'm dancing in the street naked,
you might still like me.
And the other thing is maybe it's a feeling of I belong,
here's this august institution,
this very long, nearly 250 year tradition and I belong to it,
I am part of something bigger than me.
It's not only the artists I've selected
who worry about how their works will be received.
Even Christopher Le Brun,
the President of the Royal Academy, has concerns.
As I found out when I went to visit him in his South London studio.
You've caught me at a very interesting moment,
I'm genuinely not absolutely sure which pictures I'm going to put in,
because I tend to leave the decision about the Summer Exhibition
to the very last moment.
So, which are the options? Can I give you some help?
Yes, of course, as long as you don't disagree with me.
-OK. That sort of help.
-That sort of help.
Well, I think what I'm absolutely sure about is this picture here.
What's this one called?
It's called A Letter To Joshua.
So this is... You're referring to Joshua Reynolds,
the first president of the Royal Academy, your predecessor.
Why do you feel this one is strong enough to submit this year?
It was the most recent painting I'd finished.
I also felt the scale of it, and the...
Well, I thought the strength of the colour would allow it to work
in the very difficult circumstances of the Summer Show.
I'm intrigued to see it there.
So we've got a dead cert. How many do you get in?
Does the president, do you get any perk?
No, no special conditions.
They don't want too many big paintings,
I've completely broken the rule here with this one, it's much too big.
I mean surely as president,
you're guaranteed the showing of your works?
Yes, but it's an academy,
you're making decisions in concert with your colleagues,
so you don't want to force something on the Academy.
Do you have a sense where you'd like this to hang as well?
That's not up to me, that's up to the chief hanger.
I've got ideas where I'd like it to be. But we'll see.
Whose are those?
The sinisterly named "chief hanger" this year is painter Tess Jaray.
Her job is to oversee a team of fellow RAs
who are each responsible for hanging a room.
They're all feeling the pressure.
It's week one and everyone is up against a strict deadline
to finish the hang by the following week.
Move this up to...
This is the magical and slightly mad moment
when the hang starts to come together,
all of the thousands of works submitted by the public,
the Royal Academicians,
and also the handful high profile artists invited to show,
have to make it past the final hurdle.
They are all jockeying for position, but the thing is
a small percentage of them are going to fall by the wayside
and won't actually make it onto the walls at all.
Humphrey Ocean and Mali Morris have been tasked with hanging a room
of mainly RAs' work with a smattering of public submissions.
How are you finding it?
Um... day one was pretty daunting.
This room was piled high with stuff.
I mean, my first instinct was to run away,
it was just sort of so terrifying!
But then, you know, it's flight or fight.
One of the ways we both do it is almost by walking past
and something connects with something else,
something just snags your eye and you say,
"Yes, that's should be over there."
I mean, Mali just made a suggestion for a picture
which has been sitting in one spot for the last week,
and so it's kind of hunkered down there
and we thought it was unassailable.
She said, "Why don't we move it over there?"
And it's like two weeks on a Swiss health farm for me,
you know, the lightness of being.
-Hello. Here we are.
-Oh, you've got... Is this..?
-This is the real thing.
-This is the beef tea, the famous beef tea.
-This is it.
I've never had this. It sounds rank.
Absolutely. It's delicious.
Traditional fare, secret recipe.
Has it got booze in it?
Mmmm. You bet.
Everything has got booze in it at the Royal Academy.
But I quite like it. I quite like this.
Peter Freeth and Chris Orr are responsible for the most popular rooms in the exhibition,
You two do it together?
-Not every year.
-No, no. This year we do.
-We're like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
-Double act this year.
Last year I did it on my own, I didn't have Peter's help,
and it was a bit of a failure, wasn't it, really?
THEY ALL LAUGH
Peter had to come and save the day.
Basically, it works because we have different viewpoints
and we have very different tastes...
We're incredibly sophisticated and subtle and a raised eyebrow is
all the code we need to say, "That's definitely not going on the wall."
I think Fox underneath the other, what do you think, Peter?
-Do you want it the other way round?
Can you hold it up and see which looks best?
Now it may seem that works are selected completely randomly,
but believe me, there is a method to the madness.
-Hello, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you too. I'm Alistair.
'A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to Tess Jaray's London home
'to get the inside track on how she'd approached the daunting task
'of co-ordinating this unruly art jumble sale.'
Is there a vision for the whole show or do you just do it room by room?
Oh, there is absolutely a vision for the whole show.
This year, one of the most important themes
is to concentrate on what we call modest sized works.
Now it seems to me there is a kind of epidemic of gigantism,
in museums across the world.
Are you thinking of the Tate Modern
where they have very big sculptural installations?
That's absolutely great, but art is not only that, art is many things.
And I think small works have been a little bit ignored in recent times.
I mean, I know Hockney said paintings have to be big.
I just think paintings have to be good.
I could say, size is not important... in art.
So, time to see if Tess's careful planning has paid off.
Will it be a case of best laid plans
or will she have managed to see her original vision through?
-Tess, hiya, how are you doing?
-Nice to see you.
Very well, thank you, how are you? Nice to see you again.
Are you contemplating how things are looking?
I'm rather admiring, actually.
-Good, well, that's the response you want!
I really wasn't quite certain until we started to hang them how this would work.
And I am slightly surprised that with this rather simple
but nevertheless non-rectilinear form, this wave, it's drawing you in.
Nothing is so high, there's nothing that's gone right to the top -
what's called skying, we could have filled it in right to the top,
but, this way, everything has an equal chance of being seen.
'From small paintings to large, Stephen Chambers
'faces the perhaps unenviable task of hanging all the big hitters this year -
'work by leading contemporary artists like Gary Hume
'and Georg Baselitz.'
Stephen, my hunch is that hanging a room like this might be quite tricky,
because there are big names here
and I'm assuming there are also some quite big egos.
Yeah, the easiest galleries to hang
are the galleries that are predominantly open submission
because everybody is pleased to be on the walls.
They love you.
These people know they're going to be hung. They're members.
They are going to get on the walls and care about where they're placed.
And I understand that.
Some are more vocal about letting their dissatisfaction be known than others.
Are they? So you witness strops and tantrums then?
Oh, Christ, yes.
-There is anger.
-There is foot-stamping.
And you tell them where the bike is.
And that's... Ah, I recognise this because I saw it in the studio.
This is a difficult one to hang, isn't it?
This is a sensitive one to hang.
That should maybe be over there - in a slightly more prominent spot.
No. He would blush.
Yeah, but it's a good chance to suck up, isn't it?
I think he could do without sucking up.
Now, last year, the Royal Academy lost one of its biggest names,
the abstract painter John Hoyland.
And to commemorate his unique personality and talent,
they're showing two of his seminal works from the 1970s.
Andrew Graham-Dixon visited his studio and met Hoyland's widow
as well as his close friend, the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro.
# Somewhere over the rainbow... #
John Hoyland was born in Sheffield in 1934,
a place where, he himself readily admitted, the sun rarely shone.
He should have been born in the tropics.
No other British painter used colour quite like Hoyland.
He saw colour everywhere - in a doorway,
a blade of grass, in the sky.
And he translated that love of vibrant colour
into large, abstract canvasses
positively buzzing with energy, with life.
They earned him the reputation for a while of being England's answer to Abstract Expressionists -
a kind of Sheffield-born Mark Rothko.
But it wasn't right to compare John to anyone else.
He was very much his own man.
'He satisfied his craving for light and sun by escaping rainy old England
'for the Caribbean as often as he could.
'His love for Jamaica, in particular, ran deep and strong.
'He even married Miss Jamaica.
'Hoyland's widow, Beverley Heath, who met John in late 1970s,
'is now the custodian of Hoyland's famous studio.'
Right, Andrew, so this is it.
-John Hoyland's studio headquarters!
-I do actually remember it.
But I don't think there was quite so much paint on the floor
the last time I came.
Yeah, that paint has really built up, hasn't it?
-Is this one of his last paintings?
-This is Moon In Water, yeah.
It's the very last painting he entered in his record books.
Wow, still as explosive as ever.
Still as explosive, just a bit darker.
There's a ghost of it down... Do you think that's the...?
-That's the ghost of that picture.
'He never paints upright, he always laid them on the floor.'
I'm going to try pouring this...
What a mass of paint pots, all acrylic paint he's using.
'And all the different methods he used to apply it -
'the roller, the trowel, the brush.'
-Look at this one. This is amazing.
Now see how that dries.
There's something quite poignant about how quickly a working studio
can almost turn into a shrine.
-It does feel like he's just left. I mean, the shoes covered in paint.
Look at the ones up there!
They've seen a lot of action, those boots, haven't they?
-These boots are made for painting!
'As a student at the Royal Academy Schools in the early '60s,
'Hoyland had his entire diploma show ordered off the walls by the then president,
'Sir Charles Wheeler, who took a rather dim view of abstract art.
'The irony was not lost on Hoyland when he was finally
'accepted into the fold and made a Royal Academician in 1991.
'One of Hoyland's closest friends and contemporaries was Sir Anthony Caro, now also a fellow RA,
'who has fond memories of those rebel-rousing early days.'
I'm trying to think when I did first meet him,
it was probably about '61 or '62.
He lived in Primrose Hill and he said, "Come and see what I've done,"
and I knocked on the door.
And this face came out of the ground floor room and said,
"You can't get in that way, it's full of paintings."
I had to go through the window to get in.
He was painting so much.
'He'd literally painted himself in?'
'I find it a poignant experience coming back to the RA,'
because the last time I was here, John himself was hanging a room.
He'd given his own painting a great deal of prominence,
but right in front of it, he'd put one of your works.
-So, who's this...?
-This huge painting in the middle.
Away with all that false modesty! I'm going to put myself in the middle.
And I like this kitsch Van Gogh that nobody wanted.
It's looking across at the Caro, you see.
'There was that sense that he always had,'
he liked having his work next to your work,
he felt they complimented each other in some sense.
Well, we liked each other's work, which was nice.
We became friends, really,
when we were both selected to go with the British Council show in Sao Paolo.
We were sitting on the beach at Rio,
looking at the passing ladies...
-As you do!
-As John did a lot!
And, um... and, um...
He didn't waste time!
No, he didn't waste time.
In fact, round the pool also, a bit earlier
he had met this lady who said she was doing to dance in Port of Spain.
So John said, "Let's go down and see her dance."
So we went down and she threw a lot of bottles on the floor.
She was dancing on broken glass!
Then she got hold of a snake and then she poured brandy on it, set it on fire.
And John went pale and said, "I think this is going to be too much for me, this."
So that was the girlfriend who never was.
That was the girlfriend who never was, yes!
Yes, it was always fun, you had such a laugh with John.
It's a shame that he's not here now,
but I'm glad they're giving him a send-off.
I am too. The paintings, in their own right, are wonderful.
So many of them are real humdingers.
It's nearly the end of week two of the hang
and things are falling nicely into place.
But room must be made for one late arrival...
The work I have submitted is a yellow bronze bin.
I sent out a plastic bin to China -
there's a foundry in China that makes bronze -
so they cast my plastic bin
and they made it into bronze.
They did paint it, but they painted the little tidy man,
that tidy man that drops the rubbish into the bin, that kind of symbol?
But they made him into little Chinese figures...
They didn't like the big Western figures,
so they made them into little Chinese figures instead!
I didn't know if they thought it was Western propaganda
or what it was... Anyway, it's me as a portrait, as a rubbish bin.
So I'm going to have to ask people if they recognise me when they see it.
I think it's the spitting image of me.
Just like the president,
Michael Landy also has concerns
about where his work is going to be placed.
The thing is, obviously, with a bin, there is going to be
a bit of misunderstanding about it.
If you put it into the middle of the room at the Royal Academy,
people will know it's an artwork.
But if you put it alongside a door, or you put it outside,
people will think it's a bin.
So some people will wonder why they have introduced obnoxious yellow bins into the Royal Academy.
So here is Michael's bin.
I think this is quite a good position, actually,
just here by the door. I think he'll be pleased.
I hope that at least a few visitors are will be foxed
and that rubbish will appear in there at some point!
Now the show is finally completed, it's time to find out
which of the artists I selected from the vaults has made it in.
'Weeks of suspense are now over.
'The Royal Academy send out a letter to every one of the thousands of people who submit
'and today is the day they find out if they've got in or been rejected.
"Thank you for entering this year's Summer Exhibition."
"With over 11,000 entries, the competition was extremely strong.
"However, I'm delighted to inform you that your work, The Clever Young Man,
"has been selected and hung in the exhibition."
That's brilliant, fantastic!
I'm looking forward to turning up and seeing where it's hung!
That's the next thing, seeing where it is.
'Unfortunately, it's not good news all round.'
"On this occasion, I'm sorry to inform you that your two works were not hung in the exhibition.
"However, they were short-listed, which is a fine achievement."
OK, well, of course it's hugely disappointing,
however philosophical I am,
I'll apply again another year
and try again and perhaps another time, I'll be lucky.
"I'm delighted to inform you that your Choices has been selected and hung in the exhibition."
That feels great!
'So it's better news for Scott and Liane.'
Excellent, I'm in!
It's Varnishing Day 2012
and, as in years gone by, this is the day
when the lucky artists who've got in get a sneak preview of the show
and find out where their works have been hung.
But, first of all, the show's got to be blessed!
In a colourful ritual that goes back 244 years,
the exhibiting artists are led down Piccadilly
to St James's Church for a special ceremony to launch the Summer Exhibition.
RA new boy, Michael Landy, is now well in his stride
and relishing every moment of the Summer Exhibition's unique traditions.
Well, the procession - I just like it taking up the street, really,
and I'd never been on one before. I just like the whole feel of it
and it's just a joyful, life-affirming thing.
ORGAN MUSIC PLAYS
Although not official RAs,
Liane, Scott and Robin-Lee are also welcomed into the fold,
and made to feel part of this holy art congregation...
Good morning and welcome to St James's, Piccadilly,
for the Royal Academy of Arts service for artists.
We come to celebrate and honour
the work of those who would call us beyond ourselves, by the visual arts.
We come to give thanks to God
for new ways of seeing the world in which we live.
We begin with our first hymn, Now Thank We All Our God.
# Now thank we all our God
# With hearts... #
As a child I used to go to church. But I've never been in a service where the service
is to bless an art exhibition and bless the artists taking part in the exhibition,
so I found the whole service very touching.
After the blessing, it's all back to the Royal Academy for drinks and canapes -
and a chance for Scott, Liane and Robin-Lee to finally find out where their works have been hung.
Have you spied it yet?
-Oh, yeah! Yeah!
-You've got it?
-Fantastic! It's on the line.
It's on the line.
I've never had a painting on the line before.
So that's a big new achievement?
Absolutely, I'm really happy!
-No, it's super.
-That's a good reaction!
-I've shown before and been in that tiny little room.
And I've been like nearly near the ceiling.
-That's almost the worst spot, isn't it?
-It was another small painting.
-Yes. But at least I was in, so I was happy.
-It's like going from sitting in the gods to being in the stalls!
I know, it's absolutely amazing!
Scott has no trouble spotting his work...
I do...I definitely see it!
Now, I think... Well, how do you feel?
I think it's really nicely displayed and hung,
because the whole idea of this work is to draw you in...
so to have it at this level is just right.
The level's key.
I have to say, I feel this is a premium piece of real estate.
-If I look in here, does it tell me how much you're selling this for?
-It's selling for £7,500.
-Sorry, how much?
-I give 100% of whatever I sell to Great Ormond Street Hospital...
..where one of my children was cured of a life-threatening illness as a baby many years ago.
-Well, I bloody hope it sells then!
Yeah, it's not in this main bit...
'Liane is in the big hitters room,
'but is finding it hard to locate her work.'
Are we going to find it?
-There it is.
-Yep, here it is.
I think the gift shop is there...
Almost in the gift shop, yeah, you can't step away from it very well...
You can't. I mean, it's fantastic it's in,
it's a really good, very intriguing piece, so that's all good.
-What's it called?
Kind of feels appropriate.
Yes, I don't think they thought of that.
Maybe that's a very sophisticated piece of curating on the part of Stephen Chambers...
Mmm, maybe, do you think that's called The Corridor as well?
'Michael Landy is also anxious to see where his artwork has been placed.'
Who put this bin here...? No, that's kind of what I...
Yeah, that's a good spot for it. It's right by the door,
so people could mistake it for a yellow RA bin...
It should say "Royal Academy bin" on it. They should have one in every gallery.
People have put rubbish in there as well. They've put some napkins.
Yeah, that's bronze, so that's the real one.
I thought they may have replaced it with a plastic one.
The Summer Exhibition isn't just about the thousands who apply,
and the lucky few who get in.
There's an even bigger prize at stake.
Each year, the Wollaston Award, worth a whopping £25,000,
is given to the most distinguished work of art in the exhibition.
A few days ago, I was given a sneak preview of the short list -
minutes before the three judges - art critic Jackie Wullschlager,
art historian Dawn Ades
and Royal Academician Humphrey Ocean -
sat down to deliberate and give their verdicts on the four short-listed works.
First up is Irish-American Sean Scully's abstract oil painting, Doric Grey.
Twice-nominated for the Turner Prize,
Scully is well-known for these chequer-board-like pictures.
Next, a sculpture by British artist and Royal Academician, David Nash.
This impressive piece is called Hump With A Hole
and it's a massive lump of charred oak with a hole in the middle of it.
The third piece is a barcode-like print with horizontal dark lines
by British artist Tim Head
and it's hanging next to its lighter counterpart.
Tim Head's two prints are called Libra and Libra 2.
And last, but not least, is German artist Anselm Kiefer's powerful piece, Samson.
It's part painting, part sculpture and Kiefer, an honorary RA,
is possibly the biggest name in this year's Summer Exhibition.
So, time to hear what the judges think.
I can see the judges just over there, I've got a monitor
and these headphones which allows me to hear exactly what they're saying.
We've now been round and looked at the exhibition
and we've arrived at a group
of artworks and artists
who we're going to discuss now.
I really want to argue strongly for Tim Head.
Ooh, they've got straight into it!
He works in quite a dangerous way, he doesn't have -
"this is a Tim Head" - he doesn't do precisely the trademark.
But I always feel in the presence of somebody very thoughtful.
It's quite cool and very beautiful, very visual, very optical.
It's quite polite and muted.
I was hoping there might be at some point some fisticuffs,
you know, people getting really passionate, but we'll see.
Jackie, you were very persuasive about the Sean Scully.
It's the finest painterly painting in the show
and very seductive, very tonal,
he builds up these sort of walls of paint and of colour,
but then, in this one particularly, he lets the light come through
and I think it just...
The painting glows, it's a small, glowing object...
-Can I go on to David Nash?
-I want you to!
This is a kind of lump of trunk...
The David Nash sculpture,
I really hope is going to win, I think it's a beautiful work of art.
..which has been charred on the outside
and it's extraordinary, because it's both very harsh as an object
and very velvety. You really feel you want to stroke it,
which of course we can't, but it's a very striking work
and I think the combination of mass and detail -
I think it's a terrific work.
I'm going to come straight out and say I think the Anselm Kiefer
is incomparably the most distinguished work in the show...
Jackie is going in with a strong opinion.
I think Kiefer is an artist who redefines
what painting can be, and he really stands on that line
between painting and sculpture in a very exciting and energetic way.
I don't think there's another work in the show
which rises to the sense of our times in the way that that one does.
Actually, I agree that the Kiefer, for me,
the Kiefer is the most distinguished work here.
There is an argument for having three rather than four judges,
because I am now immediately outnumbered...
This is a good moment, Humphrey's gearing up for a scrap.
I have a feeling, slightly, when I'm looking at a Kiefer
that I'm being grabbed by the jugular and told something -
And it's quite heavy, Germanic, there's a feeling of angst,
but I've really been powerfully persuaded by what you've both said.
it seems at the moment as though we're going to go for the Kiefer.
But we can only do that if you feel that you can put your voice behind that, cos otherwise...
That is a clever move from Jackie.
..forced into that position if you feel any of the other three are...
She's inviting Humphrey to bless the decision to go with Kiefer.
Kiefer needs no help from me, I mean, I think that we have come up - I would say unanimously -
with Anselm Kiefer
and his painting, Samson, as the winner of the Wollaston Prize.
Now the big prizes have been awarded,
it's time for the great and the good of the art, fashion and music worlds
to get their first glimpse of the show...
The Royal Academy is just such a fantastic tradition here in Britain,
and the artists that have come out of there are some of our greats
and you see all their work mingled in with the upcoming artists...
The highlight is it's been hung very differently - usually all the big paintings
go in the large gallery,
but this year they've salon-hung all the tiny works
in the large gallery
and also some of the walls have been painted very electric colours,
so it feels quite poppy, the whole thing.
I love art and I love to see what new things are going on in there.
Something will catch my eye and I'll think, "Now, that's fabulous."
I don't know what it will be, but it will catch my eye.
The Preview Party is the latest ritual in the long and illustrious history of the Summer Exhibition.
It only really began in the 1980s
when Michael Landy and his fellow YBAs came to prominence -
as art became sexy and the money started to flow - along with the wine.
And it's now the hottest ticket in the arts' summer calendar.
Time now for me to catch up with a few familiar faces
to see what they make of the show.
I've had a quick look round and I like all the little sculptures
on the big plinths like knick-knacks. I think that's good, quite sweet.
I like the way they try different things each year,
because you know it is in some ways a gloriously stable institution,
the Summer Exhibition, so it's nice to sort of zhuzh it up a bit
and it's getting better every year.
How do you feel about it, Philippa?
I just get very excited to see the whole range of people
who are making art in Britain today, from the amateur
to the likes of Tracey Emin.
It's like the Glastonbury of painting.
I'm enjoying it so far. I've just got in, I don't know anybody...
and the amount of artwork is always overwhelming,
so it's always lots of people and a really good buzz.
A kind of feeding frenzy about what artworks they're going to buy,
so that's the nicest bit about it.
Oh, my! Have you seen how busy that room is?! Shall we fight our way in?
Despite the heaving crowds, I've decided to jump in
and have been joined by the actress Emilia Fox,
an ambassador for the RA, who's keen to show me her highlights from the finished show.
So you say there's something over here?
-I wanted you to see this one. I know it's quite traditional.
But that's OK, isn't it?
I would love to have an Elizabeth Blackadder on my wall.
If you're going traditional,
the Summer Exhibition is the place to do it.
The RA been trying quite desperately to begin with to shake that perception,
but there has to be a place for this,
cos, in a sense, that's the DNA of the exhibition.
I love this one, it's completely different
to my traditional sensibility, like with the Elizabeth Blackadder,
but I just love this, I find it very peaceful.
I find it interesting you say peaceful,
because when I look at this, a see apocalyptic.
-It's a flood, there's nobody there,
this is clearly some sort of shimmery, toxic, nuclear flood.
I mean, maybe it is, the calm after the Apocalypse.
Where you can go and get a Buffalo Burger...
Shall we go and have a look through the architectural models as well?
-If I am completely honest, I usually find this room quite boring.
I don't really like architectural models very much,
maybe it's a lack of imagination.
That may be where we differ as female and male.
I love it, the detail on them is so incredible, don't you think?
-I want to live in them.
-I am impressed by the detail, but you were talking before
about having to love something and having a pull to it,
but I'm not feeling that... What the hell is that weird porcupine thing?
Well, we can't live in that.
-This caught your eye, you like this?
-I loved it.
It's by Cornelia Parker.
She had a beautiful long run of squashed sugar bowls last year.
They were levitating just off the floor.
They seemed to be all about memory
and they had a very ghostly, poetic presence.
And I think that this work has a similarly poetic feel to it.
And then there's a rather ghostly child behind it.
There's a really macabre, feathered, foetal figure.
That's what I felt.
I felt it was rather a sad figure,
but then I spoke to someone else who said she was sleeping and peaceful.
I suppose it could be like an angel, if you imagined an angel
completely covered in feathers rather than just the wings.
So we're back at the start
and on either side you've got this piece by Ian Davenport, abstract,
and then these two enormous John Hoyland works.
I think these are really strong.
I mean, they are so impressive.
I think this whole room is so striking,
because you've got these incredible contemporary pictures
up against these very small...
I didn't even notice those!
..traditional pictures, as I would again - as you have now realised I have a passion for flowers -
these are the ones I'd take home, they're the ones I'm just wowed by.
Well, thank you for walking round this with me...it's been good!
-It's been loud, hasn't it?
-It has been loud.
I think what I really love about the Summer Exhibition
is that it's completely untamable.
There are so many works of art here
that you're unlikely to enjoy everything you see, but in a sense, that's the point,
this rough and tumble of all these diverse, jostling, different works of art
is almost a microcosm of British democracy
and I especially love the fact that through the ages,
people have their own view of this eccentric exhibition -
in fact, people really feel that the Summer Exhibition belongs to them.
We didn't think anything to the one which was just in the corner there
and seems to be various shades of pink.
Don't really like abstract art.
The best bit I like is that.
I think that Prince Charles over there is too, um...
-You come in and just see the profile.
-Yes, he's lost over there.
Nobody actually sees him.
-I don't like that at all!
-I don't either.
But I do think Princess Anne's portrait is beautiful.
It's almost as if she's going to come out of the picture
-and speak to you.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Alastair Sooke goes behind-the-scenes of the Royal Academy's 244th Summer Exhibition, the biggest open-submission contemporary art show in the world. He selects artists he hopes will make it through the tough judging process and hears about the challenges facing the curators in hanging thousands of works by amateur and leading contemporary artists.
New RA member Michael Landy delves into the archives to satisfy his curiosity about the weird and wonderful rituals that surround the show.
Psychotherapist Philippa Perry - wife of Grayson Perry - gives a psychological portrait of artists, past and present, who have attempted to get their works accepted.
Plus actress Emilia Fox joins Alastair on a whirlwind tour of the finished show at the glitzy preview party.