In a piece that could be called “Art for the Blind” we peruse the enormous 244th Summer Show at Royal Academy with artist Alaleh Alamir. Alamir has a piece in the print room and came over from France to see her work hung in the historically estimable Royal Academy, London.
Alamir has been to the RA’s famous Summer Show several times over the years, and thus was able to point out recent developments such as a film booth and the architecture gallery (curated by Christopher Wilkinson, whose own huge sculpture fills the front courtyard), that gives the RA that all-important ‘current’ feel. When I asked Alamir if she’d seen one thing in the exhibition with ‘Wow factor’, she replied: “If you work with art every single day of your life after 35 years…imagine! Wah, wah wah! I don’t feel anymore!“ This year, as ever, Turner prize winners hang beside lesser knowns, including Afghan artist Aman Mojadidi’s life-size photo of a bearded man with a gold pistol on a heavy chain around his neck. Titled Dressing For Work, the image is from Mojadidi’s series A Day In the Life of A Jihadi Gangster.
And so what’s the significance of Alamir’s work hanging in the RA? Well the Academy was founded by King George III in 1768 to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition. It’s unique from other UK art mogul institutions in that it receives no financial support from the state or crown. Its income comes from private means: exhibitions, trust and endowment funds, trading activities and from subscriptions of its Friends and Corporate Members. Much of the Academy’s costs are met by sponsorship from commercial and industrial companies, a working model for which the Academy was one of the pioneers. The RA invites and then promotes its own Academicians, artists cannot apply (unless they are in the right crowd, presumably). The Academy has historically been the standard-setter in the fine arts, perhaps less now than before, but with museums and galleries funds under threat, they really should be tutoring other organisations on how to survive without state handouts, at least until we have a change of government!
Historically the RA has caused huge amounts of response from artists around its selection and rejection processes and has always hung works in innovative, creative ways. A must for any aspirational curator. The show continues until August 12th and is paid entry.