Who but a lunatic would agree to curate the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, a show that this year includes no fewer than 1,129 works of painting, sculpture and much else? How does anybody make sense of it? Fortunately, there are serving academicians who are happy to oblige.
The show's first gallery begins, most unusually, not with a teeming mass of this and that by various knowns and unknowns, but with a fairly spare and intelligent homage to the recently deceased painter, Ron Kitaj.
The choice of works, from early to late, is crisp, interesting and illuminating. And one painting – an exuberantly colourful late portrait called The Jewish Rider – has the most curious dating. According to the label – and the catalogue – it was painted between 1994 and 1985. So here we have a marvel; Kitaj was blessed with the gift of painting backwards.
After Kitaj, all hell is let loose – as usual – as we greet paintings and prints mounting up almost to the ceiling. The great bazaar is back, with a vengeance! It has to be said, though, that these two following rooms of prints and small works contain some excellent stuff: look at Celia Paul's delightful lithograph of her old mother beside the window, or marvel at the folksy linocut on a giant scale called Frau Mit Guitarre by Christoph Ruckhaberle.
But when we get to the main galleries at the centre of the exhibition, we find that many of the works are wholly underwhelming, and too much the sort of thing we have been seeing at this exhibition for years.
One room to be recommended is the sculpture gallery, curated by Tony Cragg. It feels pleasing because Cragg has admitted few works and given each one adequate space in which to breathe. So we can admire, one by one, a Cragg of slithery morphing faces, and then look directly across from it, without the impediment of mountains of visual clutter, to one of Anish Kapoor's delightful, and brilliantly reflective, narrowing cones in stainless steel.
Next time, some academician should propose halving the number of works on display in order to double the potential fun.
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