Less paintings are more for the Academy

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The Independent Online
WHILE THERE are still the reliable cliff-top scenes in oil, floral watercolours and tired abstracts of colour in this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, there is also a key new element - space.

Stung by criticism that the Summer Exhibition has been too traditional and uninspired in the past, the RA has cut the number of works selected to hang this year from 1,200 to 982.

As well as undertaking a more discriminating selection, the Academy hopes extra space given to the hanging of works will help eliminate what one Academician described as the "monotony" generated in the past by rooms packed with paintings. Even the Small Weston Room, which traditionally appeals to visitors because it is crammed with many small paintings, has been cut down to a relatively modest 95 paintings this year.

Academician Anthony Green, who leads the hanging committee of the Academy and chose the paintings for the Small Weston Room, described the show this year as "elegantly underhung".

After the success of the "Sensation" exhibition of young British artists and this year's Monet exhibition, the Academy has turned its attention to reviving the Summer Exhibition which has in the past been dismissed as Middle England at the easel.

After reducing the number of hung works the Academy's main departure has been to devote an entire room to the works of one artist, David Hockney. His 20-foot wide paintings of the Grand Canyon provide a centrepiece for the exhibition for the first time. The Academy is hoping that the Hockney paintings should increase the number of visitors to this year's exhibition by 50,000 to 150,000 during its two-month run.

Hoping to emulate the impact and success of last year's 60 body casts displayed in the courtyard by sculptor Anthony Gormley are three giant bronzes by Tony Cragg. The twisting, fluid form of Turbo dominates the courtyard and the front of the building.

The first major painting the public will come across is German artist Anselm Kiefer's war work, Battle of Britain, which is in competition for the pounds 25,000 Wollaston Award. The slight blue painting evokes the skies of Southern England and includes a model fighter plane suspended on the canvas.

Hockney, Cragg and Patrick Caulfield, whose Moroccan Red painting is being used to illustrate the exhibition catalogue, are also in competition for the Wollaston Award. They are pitted against American Mick Moon, whose two tea-chest paintings Home Soil and Home Soil Two dominate two of the largest rooms in the exhibition and Rose Wylie's Garden Picture. Marking the Academy's move away from the traditional is the decision to allow the haunting, crucifix-shaped painting Requiem for Jason Mark and Richard to dominate an entire run of rooms from its place high on an end wall. The graffiti-covered cross, by Royal Academy member Ken Howard features a family portrait of the three Catholic boys killed by a fire bomb during the Drumcree stand-off in Northern Ireland last year.

The exhibition at the RA, Piccadilly, central London, runs from 7 June to 15 August.