Paul Huxley, who hung this showpiece gallery, grins irreverently, while claiming to have included ‘the largest painting ever seen in the Summer Exhibition, as well as the heaviest’. He means, First, David Hockney’s massive fifty-part composition of trees that occupies the entire end wall and, second, the almost equally vast piece by the Honorary RA Anselm Kiefer. This includes a model submarine in lead and a dead briar, roots and all, hanging from wires fixed to the surface of crazed, encrusted and painted mud. The installation required the use of ‘two cranes, seven technicians, and impressive amounts of modern technology’.
Anselm Kiefer, Aperiat terra et germinet salvatorem. Mixed media, 460 x 690 cm. Courtesy Jay Jopling/ White Cube (London)
Somehow, these behemoths don’t suck the life out of everything around them. Adrian Berg, who occupies the hot spot beside Hockney, more than survives the encounter with his intensely colourful, joyous compositions partly inspired by Persian miniature painting. To the left of these are some ebullient abstracts by Gillian Ayres that can also hold their own. Opposite the Hockney, at the other end of the gallery, is a memorial tribute to Kyffin Williams, who died last year at the age of 88. His paintings shout back determinedly across the enormous space, answering lean paint applied in a single coat with rich, creamy impastos.
Adjacent to Williams are the deliberate eccentricities of one of his former pupils, Anthony Green, who shows his commissioned tribute to the boffins and craftsmen of Rolls Royce and their aero-engine wizardry. Rolls Royce has lent the painting together with a single fan blade from one of its Trent 8104 engines. For beauty and finish, this stands comparison with the most streamlined and polished piece of sculpture here. And, of course, it also has a function.