Having Art for Breakfast: Private View at the Royal Academy of Arts

I was invited to a private breakfast viewing of the Royal Academy of Arts summer show this morning. Tom’s uncle Barry is an artist, and visits the exhibitions in London whenever he can, as well as getting invitations to fancy arts events. On this occasion he needed a guest, and I was very pleased to be thought of. Being a good guest is an artform in itself. It usually involves dressing nicely, bringing gifts, and making interesting conversation (or telling ribald stories, depending on the circumstances), though on this occasion I was required only to enjoy myself – which made a pleasant change! It was early (I don’t usually do early) but I made an exception for Barry, and I’m very glad I did.

I was pretty excited about the breakfast part to be honest, and  I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Skewers of crisp watermelon, sweet mango and heavenly strawberries, bite-sized breakfast muffins full of seeds and goodness, and a plethora of pastries were scattered on stands around the exhibition. Most of the guests were inhaling fresh coffee, but Barry and I snaffled up freshly-squeezed orange juice, hands full of edible goodies to keep us going. It’s rare that galleries will allow food and drink anywhere near them, so it feels thrillingly naughty to be part of such a civilised (and licensed) rebellion.

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition is now in its 245th year, and still hasn’t waned in popularity if the celebrity turnout is anything to go by. It’s the world’s largest open-submission contemporary art show, providing a platform for both emerging and established artists to showcase their work to an international audience. The majority of the works are also for sale, which makes it a lot more exciting than a standard exhibition. Everything affordable has already been sold of course, small orange dots indicating which pieces are now available for viewing only, but the eclectic range of mediums and subjects will certainly give you something to think about. I’ve described a few of my favourite pieces below, as well as including a couple of sneaky pictures I managed to take.

The first piece I was drawn to is titled The Owl Run, by Hughie O’Donoghue (no. 663 in the catalogue: £33,600). It’s a large oil painting on linen, with different strata of charcoal greys and fiery reds. An abstract depiction of the movement of an owl’s wings as it steeps and soars through the landscape, the colour scheme and sharpness of movement lends it a sense of urgency. It could be a volcanic eruption, a primal battle between land and sea, or a nightmare, and you sense that the owl of the title is both the subject and a fleeting observer.

I also loved the photo titled Teens in Waiting Room, Heads Down by David Stewart (965: £3420), and the one below it titled Ursula with Virgins by Liane Lang (964: £3,200). I was fascinated by the anonymity of both subjects, yet how intimate they feel. The unusual perspectives chosen for group portraits denies the viewer what we expect, amplifying our curiosity. The above photo is a sneaky (and poor) shot I took of these, but it will give you a better idea of what I’m referring to.


I couldn’t write about this exhibition, however, without mentioning the six Grayson Perry tapestries (example above, 1265: not for sale). These huge pieces depict the modern forms of the British class system; the symbols, stories and preoccupations of the different classes our society has evolved into. It is perturbing for a comforting medium like the tapestry to be used to depict violent, graphic scenes, though this does soften their impact whilst simultaneously making them more ‘viewable’ and compelling. Constructing these scenes as tapestries also lends them a sense of grandeur and validity, accessing an ingrained appreciation of the medium’s history and significance.  The different class depictions could easily be perceived as offensive parodies though, and I do wonder what makes them acceptable? Their honesty perhaps?

Has anyone else visited the RAA’s summer show yet? 

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5 thoughts on “Having Art for Breakfast: Private View at the Royal Academy of Arts

  1. So glad you gave dear Grayson a special mention. His last exhibition at the BM – The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen, anywhere. His TV program, based around the tapestires above was both insightful and amusing. I’m a HUGE fan!

    • You would expect his art to divide people, but everyone I’ve spoken to has been a huge fan as well! The tv series was fascinating wasn’t it – a real insight into both his subjects and his work. Jx

      • Are the tapestries on view at the RA, by the way? I thought they were on a tour of the country, starting in Sunderland. I missed them last year when they were at the Victoria Miro Gallery…would love to see them up close…

      • They are, yes – everyone else seemed quite surprised to see them there as well, but they have a room all to themselves. Jx

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