The theme of the Royal Academy’s 241st Summer Exhibition is ‘making space’, a liberating concept suggested by Ann Christopher, one of the show’s three co-ordinators. As a sculptor, Christopher is eager to ‘shake up’ the galleries with three dimensional work displayed on the walls. But the ‘making space’ theme also signifies her desire to ‘hang figurative art with non-figurative, elders with youngers’, and to embrace as many different art forms as possible: ‘We decided to include much more photography than usual. In my view, if you want to produce an image, it doesn’t matter how you do it.’
The other co-ordinators are equally determined to break down territorial boundaries. Eileen Cooper has focused on ‘mixing different kinds of work much more than we normally do. We don’t want ghettos any more. I’m after surprising juxtapositions. Photographs are mixed with paintings, and we move from wood engravings to digital works on the same wall.’
The third co-ordinator, the architect Will Alsop, shares this urge to bring together disparate elements. He welcomes the fact that ‘art and architecture have become much closer’ and in order to enhance this dialogue, has included work by sculptors in the Architecture Room and encouraged architects to send in three-dimensional work.
Sculpture announces the exhibition even before visitors enter the galleries. Down in the Annenberg Courtyard, Bryan Kneale’s spectacular stainless steel Triton III asserts its monumental presence. And upstairs in the Central Hall, Damien Hirst’s gleaming silver statue of St Bartholomew exposes the full complexity of the figure’s muscular structure.
Sculptors like Antony Gormley, Allen Jones and Bill Woodrow have a forceful impact in Gallery IV, while in Gallery I the Honorary Academician Anselm Kiefer has placed real branches and ruined structures in front of his painted triptych of a gloomy forest.
The largest and most spectacular exhibit this year is Cy Twombly’s epic painting of three roses, exploding on the end wall in Gallery III. And the death of the painter Jean Cooke is marked by a memorial display in the Central Hall.
But the most revolutionary initiative can be found in Gallery X, where a dramatic showcase of film work selected by Richard Wilson is being screened. It is an historic moment: the Royal Academy has never before devoted a whole room of the Summer Exhibition to film. Wilson believes that ‘it deserves to be celebrated’.