Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Culture Show Special The Culture Show

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Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Culture Show Special

In this Culture Show special on the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, art critic Alastair Sooke asks what makes someone an artist and why do they do it?

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17 and I read about it for years when I was younger and always wanted


to be a part of it. When I first entered the Summer


Exhibition, my eldest son was about four and now he is in his 40s!


He is six foot four and I am for four foot five!


-- four foot five. It is one of our real institutions, established for a


long time. A really prestigious place. So entering the competition


is slightly daunting because I have only just really started.


I am quite prolific so I am making, making, making, and I was here last


night until the early hours. I contacted my friend and she said, go


to bed, I said, I need to do a bit more!


Here we go again! I cannot find the end!


I read somewhere that they have 13,000 entries. Carroll made me this


bag, it is the perfect size. Good luck.


Thank you. I feel really nervous but also quite


excited. It could mean a new phase in my life.


It is the top one, if you get in, I think you have got it made!


If I got in this year, it would be fantastic. I will enter and see what


Exhibition, the largest open art exhibition anywhere in the world and


I have, many times, have visited and reviewed and even entered work. What


I always think when I see people submitting work is, why do they do


it and why do we do it, where does this compulsion to create, from?


--, from. I remember when my husband was buried, I was sitting in bed


until two a.m. Doing a watercolour. And I could forget all that was


going on. You lose yourself in it. If you love what you do so much


committee will it wherever you are, even if you are living in a


cardboard box. But if you are a pain to or a sculptor or a poet or a


writer, you will make sure you do that. If you are dedicated and you


are going to be an artist coming you will do it.


My husband has always been very supportive. I was ill for a long


time and had one treatment and at the end of it, he said to me, I


should do what I love. After everything I had been through.


I have been shortlisted ten times and last year, I actually got in.


One of the judges is one of my icons. Norman Ackroyd. And he is a


printmaker, and his work is fantastic. It is exciting to think


of Norman Ackroyd seeing my work. It This is an extraordinary exhibition


where we attempt to open it up to the entire country and abroad. They


can submit before us. They will be judged by their fellow artist, not


before art historians and curators. And that is pretty unique.


judges being artists and critics. The fact that anybody can enter,


everybody is on an equal footing. I like to keep those to -- I would


like to keep those two back. It is quite, no, no, maybe.


We are going to look at a total of possibly ten, -10,000, 11,000.


You sometimes when you have not chosen one for a while, think, my


eyes getting jaded? Then suddenly something good hit you and you


realise the good thing will still hit you. And you will be able to


keep it back. That is well painted.


You are just not quite sure exactly what they are looking for!


You cannot please everybody so I think you should stick to what you


know and believe in. It has to be genuine. And say the


truth. That is good art. It is like John Keats and owed to it


Grecian urn. Duty is truth and truth beauty. -- Ode To A Grecian Urn. --


beauty is truth. There is nothing MORI can do.


It is in the hands of the judges. -- there is nothing MORI can do.


-- and MORI can do. very personal thing. All careers in


the art world depend to some extent on the vagaries of taste and


judgement of others, but it -- but it is especially true of the


thousands who submit work here every year. And in the vaults beneath the


Royal Academy, there are 1,000 works of art which made it through the


first round of judging. And today, I will look through them with a top


commercial art dealer and I am careers to find out what she makes


of it. -- curious. Kate, come in here and


come to the vaults of the Royal Academy.


The vaults of the Royal Academy, what a privilege!


It took the judges five days to choose the shortlisted 1,000, but


only half of this lot will make it onto the wars!


I think it would be quite good if we try and select if you works we think


will make it in. It is not competitive.


Maybe it is! It could be slightly. At we have to


wear these gloves. And I think we are allowed to rummage around and


see what we can find. I will go around here. I think there is some


fertile territory this way. I will head over here.


John is my art handler for the day. You have a colleague who will look


after Kate. We will start here and work


through. How do you approach this genuinely when you see works of art


you have never encountered before? You can give them a couple of


seconds and no if you will engage with them. So it is a gut feeling?


Think it is. Pasted interesting because it feels conscious and


refined and that you learn it. -- taste is. Which you are saying it is


the opposite. I think you can combine the two but it will always


be highly personal to me. In some ways, I think I have lost my


personal taste and it is hard to choose art I want to buy for myself,


That is quite interesting. It is origami. Don't look at my! It is


cheating. -- mine. Go back, there was a drawing unfinished and it has


stayed with me. What you would potentially see in the exhibition is


not necessarily the cutting edge of the London art scene, but that is


really refreshing because we think we are these big taste makers and


everything we show in our galleries is the be all and end all and we are


probably speaking to a much smaller audience than this show. Probably


200,000 people see the summer show, it is non-elitist.


I like that. This stack, for me, is Aaron, let's find another.


I will, over there in a minute. -- is barren.


This is your selection. There is something quite insistent about what


you have chosen. Those two definitely work together.


-- consistent. A photograph very quickly becomes the style trick, it


is difficult for a photograph to live in the moment and it dates


really quickly. -- idealistic. When you look back at an old photograph,


they were probably just as colourful than as we are now. This has a


fairly autobiographical connotation because there is nothing I love more


than art history. You have Guernica, Hokusai's Wave, Rafael,


Lichtenstein. Of all, it is probably the one I would not sell in my


gallery but if I saw it and I could afford it, I would have to buy it.


That is interesting, different levels of taste. Oscar Wilde said,


all criticism is a form of autobiography, and I have not shown


you mine yet but it is exposing when you pick things and say, this is


what I have chosen. Particularly when we have two


references to fake blonde hair. Getting a bit worried about my


taste! I have picked things that I think


quite pleasing and satisfying images that you could have at home, that


you might have in a small intimate, domestic setting. If this gets in,


we could be wandering around and there will be a moment of stillness


and quietness and a space for technical brilliance within the show


that was the thinking. Walthamstow Marshes, which is somewhere I cycled


through a lot, so a personal connection. And although it is in


monochrome again, it is technically very good. This is pretty safe and


was pleasing. This, I just picked on in cheek, not


because it is just a bunch of statues of naked women -- Tong in


cheek. I liked the idea it is puncturing the pretension of looking


at art and pontificating about something. But my favourite piece of


all is this big photograph. There is nobody in it but it is clearly a


self-portrait and it feels full of identity and personality, even down


to finishing a Coffey... That coffee is still warm. As a journalist,


which would these are -- which of these artists would you want to know


more about? This is complicated and a what is happening, you want to


find out about the person who created it, there is a creative


intelligence behind it. We have had a sense of these able


who created these works, I feel quite confident about two, three of


my pics. You are quite confident? hope I see some of them. The next


stage is from tomorrow, all the work selected will be put in the gallery


and somebody starts to hang them and then of course you have much more


complicated processes of how they bounce off against each other.


whole new set of rules. Handing a letters of notification are going


out. My husband told me to practice my faces, but I haven't! Aah, they


haven't been chosen. So, that is sad. I feel really disappointed,


but, on the other hand, I know a lot of people entered, and it's not


going to stop me entering in the future. I think my work is good


enough to be shown there. I've got so used to getting the old reject.


Ooh! "I'm pleased to inform you that the selection committee is still


considering your works." Well, that's made my day. Oh, that really


has. They're still considering my work! Yes! OK, cool. Woo! Amalia, my


mum needs a hug because my work wasn't selected. So I feel sad about


that. OK, I will give you a hug. I have to go upstairs and do homework


the shortlisted works are in the galleries, the serious business of


the hang is underway. Is that the way up, is it? It's all done under


the watchful eyes of this year's co-ordinators, Norman Ackroyd and


Eva Jiricna. Their job is to hang an exhibition, not just of members of


the public, but of famous artists too. That is the great thing about


the summer show. I remember Jasper Johns giving me an absolutely


beautiful mass massive etching. I just chose about a dozen really


beautiful student works and hung them around the Johns. It was a,


kind of, shrine, you know? You can do that in the Summer Exhibition.


What an amazing validation, particularly when you are


potentially in the next room next to Anthony Caro. How brilliant. I mean


I would love it if they hung the pictures with no labels. Emphasise


the fact that it is a completely mixed occasion. Norman and evil ya


might be judges this year, but back in the day they submitted


themselves. If you want to be an artist, that is what you do.


submitted by drawings in 1973. I think that was. So they were hung on


this wall. I never expected that anybody would select my little


drawings. You know, it was just an absolutely fantastic event in my


little life. Before I was an Academician I used to submit for the


summer show. Most years I was accepted and hung. A couple of years


I was rejected and not hung. I was disappointed. In order to make it a


little bit sweeter, we always open a bot of champagne when we lose the


competition and then we cheer up and think, OK, so when is the next one?


You've got to be tough as old boots as an artist especially if you get


past the age of 40. There's the old quote - that everybody is a poet at


18. You know to be a poet at 40 is to be a poet. If you can survive


right up to the age of 40 and you are still working then, you are


probably going to carry on doing it for the next 30, 4 o 0 years.


years. Nice, nice. I will do that now. One artist showing this year


found fame late in life. Like international artists invited to the


Summer Exhibition in the past, El Anatsui is installing his work in


the courtyard. Hi, El. Hello, good to see you. This is looking


spectacular. It's actually a work that I hadn't seen face-to-face


because I worked on it all on the ground. So it is my first time of


actually seeing it. What is it made of? Bits of metal? Yeah. It's made


of liquor bottle caps. You know, I cut and flattened out and joined


together into the sheet. His massive works have been hung in Berlin,


Venice and New York this is one of the biggest of the lot. It's made by


a huge team of workers in Nigeria stitching together a �250,000 bottle


tops. I fwound them in a bag that was thrown in a bush. I knew because


I crushed them and they were soft and you could crumple and all those


things that was something that could be developed in into an expressive


material. Stumbling across treasure. Yeah. He found fame with great


shimmering cloths at the age of 70. He is proof positive that


after hours. You think about all the artists, living and dead, who have


come and gone over the years. Perhaps that's why anyone makes art


in the first place, to be remembered, to leave your mark on


the world. Norman, it's quite a pleasure being here out of hours,


when there is no-one around? Beautifully quiet in here. Nobody


bothers you. It's wonderful. When I came round the corner I found you


contemplating these. These are paintings by Mary Fedden? When Mary


died last year we put a memorial group together and I volunteered to


put Mary's group together because she was a very dear friend. I have


known her for 50 years. I thought this should be in this big gallery.


I wanted to put them in my gallery. When I think Mary Fedden I think of


pictures that look look more like the upper two, a still life, a lot


of colour, a flattened sense of the picture plane. Tlt isn't a sense of


tremendous depth. She is deliberately flattening things out.


This isn't a still life at the bottom. That does have enormous


depth in it, in terms of landscape, going through the graveyard with


cows. You want to go in and round the corner. There is some light


coming in. It's a mysterious picture. I've always thought that


artist must have one eye all the time on posterty. I mean we are


looking at a picture in which there is a graveyard, there a's a sense of


pronounced sense of mortality. Are you thinking of what happens next?


Nt aren't we all? It's a bid for immortality, as well? I have


pictures by dead artists on my wall. I suppose it's immortality. I look


at Samuel Palmer in the morning. You know. ?It gives me great joy,


virtually every day. I suppose it's immortality. Maybe my etchis will


give other people that joy. I suppose it's immortality, yes, I


concede -- etchings. I don't mean it's an egotistical thing but I


always imagined you know as a successful artist you must think and


hope that it's what will happen to your work. I hope my work, I hope my


work survives. And that some people are carrying on looking tat in 100


years' time and think that's not the at all bad. There are certain


subjects which are going to encourage immortality within art?


The human face will always be a subject to the Uffizi, there's two


Rembrandt paintings about the size, one of him when he's a young Jack


the lad and one of him about a year before he died. They are just


sitting there. There's Rembrandt's life and the way he could look at


himself and was in touch with his own mortality and all that kind of


things. Well that's what Rembrandt's about. There's a paradox there. He's


painting his own mortality and in doing that he's achieved


immortality. That's art.In two weeks before the Summer Exhibition


opens, the galleries are almost finished and the last paintings are


being hung. The second and final letters of notification are going


out and the wait is almost over. Didn't get in, did I? What does it


say? "they, available to collect and remove by 4. 4.00pm on Saturday 8th


June. Never mind. Because I got shortlisted that is enough for me at


the moment. It 's got to keep showing my work. Keep making and


keep growing as an artist. I'm still young. I've got time. Ooh. There's a


card in here. That looks, ooh, that is significant that. I'm in! I'm in!


He-he. Varnishing Day. Oh, a week Monday. Iement' in! I'm in! I got in


the Royal Academy again. You're joking? No I'm not. I've got in with


Bodiam castle. Have you? That's brilliant. Ain't that lovely?


Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy used to be a chance for painterses


to apply a few final touches, but these days it's more of a


celebration for the successful artists and also the first chance to


see their works hanging on the walls of the Summer Exhibition. Oh, I can


see it! That's a good position. It's not very good, is it? Just a few


days before it opens to the public, the Royal Academy throws open its


doors to invited art biest who have been queueing round the block. --


buyers. Good to see you again. We have come together on Buyer's


Day. We have indeed.Are expecting 4,000 to 5,000 people through the


doors today. Everyone has a book, a price list, they are having a look.


Red stickers have gone up beneath certain works. Since I have got to


know you, Kate, I like you very much, I noticed you have a slightly


competitive side? It has been said. It has been said. Do you remember


when we met before and we were walking through the vaults? Yes.


Works did we both select? Five. Five each. I've been told that I'm quite


bad at masking my emotions. The score is. I might have to sit down.


Tell me. The score is Kate Bryan 4, Alastair Sooke 2. I'm so happy.I


thought you might be. Well done. Thank you. We should go on a victory


lap for you. We will look at some of the pictures that made it in. Here


is one. Yep.You liked this most of all? I thought, for me, if I


switched off from work and I just thought something that I would


really like b quite diverting and nice to have at home, I think I


think I could live with that. news for you? It's sold.'s gone. It


could have been yours for... What would you price this at? I don't


know, �2,000. Somewhere between �2,000 and �5,000. I think you need


to make Nelly an offer. In here it's �1,300. I should have got in


earlier. The record, there is a print over there that I did pick out


and then I put it back. I just want it to be known. If that makes you


feel better. This is one of my two. Do you remember that one? I liked


that. It still has a presence because it has that quietness and


that sense of interiority. Your eye is drawn to it? It's the strongest


work on that wall. , where shall we go next? Shall we do one of yourts


or several of mine? I'm not enjoying this. I want to go home! You are not


even drawing attention to it. There it is. Fine. I'm trying to play it


cool. Here is another. Yes. Yes. No, you have a very, very good eye.


is actually quite an interesting wall, I think. Because it has two of


your works on it? I feel this room is a nice happy balance for us both


because there are two works in here. Here is your photograph. Yes.There


is mine. Both really good pieces. This is a fantastic room. I would


hang, all of these works here in this corner in my gall wri --


gallery. No problem. Maybe I should put the competition to one side and


Now in its 245th year, and with 12,000 submissions, the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is the largest open art exhibition in the world. In this Culture Show special, art critic Alastair Sooke asks what makes someone an artist and why do they do it? He hears from curators, art dealers, and of course the artists themselves.

From Sunday painters to international contemporary artists, from traditional landscapes to giant sculptures made from bottle tops, the Summer Exhibition is the British art scene laid bare.