Large Weston Room
Small Weston Room
Wohl Central Hall
Nothing could be further removed from old-fashioned gentility than the abrasive word ‘raw’. But quite unexpectedly, it is the overriding theme of the Royal Academy’s 242nd Summer Exhibition. And this feisty, heretical word succeeded in attracting 11,000 submissions from enthusiastic artists across the nation. A century ago,most Academicians would have felt affronted by the very idea that their work was lacking in gloss. Today, however, ‘raw’ – signifying vitality, risk-taking and a necessary sense of adventure – has been greeted with widespread approbation.
The theme was chosen by Stephen Chambers, the main coordinator of this year’s show. Fired by the conviction that ‘art can be rugged. Paint is essentially coloured mud spread across cloth, and sculpture ismade of “stuff”’, he wanted to ‘push the exhibition in curious directions’. According to Chambers, raw art is ‘fresh, new, visceral and affirmative. Some of it is fairly scary, too.’ He is fascinated above all by ‘artists who are mavericks, people who don’t play by the rules but plough their own furrows’.
Wherever we roam in this uninhibited show, Chambers has inserted a work by an artist bent on taking us by surprise. Some are big and robust, others intimate. Their creators range from young artists like James Fisher, just out of art school, to those as eminent as Nancy Spero, who recently died. Chambers wants these works to ‘pull visitors through the galleries’, and nowhere more explosively than in the Wohl Central Hall, which Yinka Shonibare’s Crash Willy invades with the aftermath of a car accident. ‘This is a pretty big and nutty piece, but fabulous,’ says Chambers. ‘The driver looks as if hehas come out worst from a Wacky Races prang.’ But ‘raw’ can also embrace the farmore spiritual charge informing Bill Viola’s video
Acceptance in Gallery X,where water falls on a naked woman. ‘It’s drenching her, and she doesn’t havemuch choice. But there are religious undertones: it’s a kind of filmed late baptism.’
David Chipperfield, the co-ordinator of the Architecture Room, also warmed to the idea of ‘raw’. Shifting the architects to a bigger gallery, the Lecture Room, he set about exploring the creative origins of architecture rather than glossy outcomes. ‘I wanted to focus on concepts rather than final representations of buildings,’ Chipperfield explains. ‘This is much more speculative and interesting. I wanted to show the plurality and diversity of what architects see.’ Chipperfield admits that ‘architects don’t like to show their rough stuff, so you have to winkle it out of them’. But he has succeeded in curating a so-called ‘Arty’ section, with works by several practitioners, which seems to be exploding with sculptural forms.