Back in April, the Royal Academy of Arts announced that their 252nd Summer Exhibition, originally due to open in June, had been rescheduled for this autumn due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show and has been held every year without interruption since 1769, even throughout the war years.

Rebecca Salter, President of the Royal Academy of Arts and Chair of the Summer Exhibition 2020 Committee said: “Like everyone, the Royal Academy is faced with navigating an uncertain time and finding ways to make the best of it. One thing is certain though: our belief in the power of art, and the role it can play in inspiring creativity and hope.”

The exhibition finally opened at the beginning of October and is set to run until January 2021, to make up for this summer’s lost time. A year of “new normals” and firsts, 2020 is the first year this exhibition has ever been held outside the summer, and the first time the event has been curated by an artistic duo – Jane and Louise Wilson RA. The pair have selected works by a range of artists across a variety of different mediums. In this article, we look at work by four artists who feature in the exhibition.

Ori Gersht

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‘Floating World Melting World 02’ by Ori Gersht, 2015. Photography. 120 x 120 cm.

Israel-born artist Ori Gersht has lived and worked in London for over 30 years, creating work that explores the relationships between history, memory and landscape. Much of his work involves the visual representation of conflict and violent events or history through a poetic, metaphorical approach.

Gersht’s work in this exhibition, Melting World 02, comes from a larger collection, Floating World (2016). This photographic series involves the capturing of locations within Kyoto’s Zen gardens where water reflects natural forms. The photos in this series are inverted and fused together, creating “new spaces that hover between material and virtual realities.”

Conrad Shawcross

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Conrad Shawcross, ‘Catastrophe Sequence (Solid)’, 2017. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Richard Ivey.

Conrad Shawcross, RA, lives and works in London. Shawcross’ sculptures explore subjects that lie on the borders of metaphysics, physics, geometry and philosophy, and are imbued with an appearance of scientific rationality. The artist draws inspiration from different technology, retaining the authority of machines while introducing a sense of wonder, mystery and paradox.

Shawcross’ work in this exhibition, Catastrophe Sequence (Solid) is part of an ongoing series of abstract solid and modular towers often grouped in sequences of three – a number which references a pyramid or triangle and also has numerous spiritual and mythical associations. Whilst the first piece in the trio is symmetrical, the second and third twist and waver into mysterious versions of each other. Symbolising the notion of progress, splitting and evolution are key threads within Shawcross’s practice. Although his sculpture may hint at organic, natural forms, in the artist’s words, “in the end, it remains elusive to definition”.

David Batchelor

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‘Inter-Concreto 25’ by David Batchelor. Image courtesy of the artist.

Dundee-born David Batchelor also has sculptural work in the Summer Exhibition. Much of Batchelir’s work relates to his long-term interest in colour and urbanism, comprising three-dimensional structures, photographs, paintings and drawings. His description of Inter-Concreto 25 is as follows:

“This group of sculptures began with a simple observation. In almost every city I have ever visited, usually down a back street or in a cul-de-sac, I have at some point come across a mid-height wall topped-off with shards of broken coloured glass set in concrete. And at some point this unsubtle but effective-looking deterrent to the over-curious gave me an idea for a sculpture.

“Back in the studio I made a small mould, the size of a single brick, poured a cement and sand solution into it and inserted a few shards of brightly coloured glass into that. Given much of my work over the last thirty years has involved placing planes of colour on a neutral support of some kind, this felt like a fairly logical thing to do. It was 2011 and I liked the result.

“In the decade or so since then I have made larger and smaller versions of these Concretos; I have used shaped offcuts of industrial Perspex in place of glass; I have tried readymade metal, timber or plastic objects; and over the last year I have been making floor-based versions in which multiple layers of recycled coloured acrylic rise up to two metres above their solid concrete bases.”

Eddie Peake

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Eddie Peake, ‘Sweat’. Screenprint with solvent-based ink in three colour blend and gloss varnish on 410gsm somerset tub sized paper, 76 x 60 cm © Eddie Peake. Courtesy of and Team GB/British Olympic Association.

Another London artist, Eddie Peake brings a splash of colour to the Summer Exhibition with his screenprint, Sweat. Peake’s work encompasses installation, performance, video, photography, painting and sculpture, and much of his work focuses on the “lapses and voids” that exist in the translation between verbal and nonverbal languages.

In Peake’s exhibition piece, “eye-popping fluorescent tones and vivid graphic style reference the acid-hued slogans of Nineties rave culture” while the artist’s prose poem “ambiguously references both sex and athletics. This sensual ambiguity reflects Peake’s on-going exploration of human bodies as both sculptural objects and personal subjects. The screen print combines glossy blended colour with scrawling matte text created using pieces of masking tape, in a style reminiscent of Peake’s spray-painted works on steel.”

Article by Toby Buckley.

The Summer Exhibition 2020 at the Royal Academy of Arts runs from 6 October 2020 – 3 January 2021 and is sponsored by Insight Investment. You can find more information via the RA website, here.