Wednesday, 6 July 2011


The annual Royal Academy School Show, like the Serpentine Pavilion, is another event to look forward to each summer. It’s a chance for young artists to see their work for the first time in a professional setting, and for the work to be assessed and enjoyed by a public which may well include some collectors.

For reasons too mundane to tell, I turned up at the Show (just behind the Royal Academy (RA) at Piccadilly), in the clothes I wore that morning to clear out my study. Did I look like a bag lady? It didn’t matter. I was invisible. The slim and beautiful young things who were stewarding in their red tops with the RA logo never made eye contact with anyone they didn’t know.

The gallery space is stunning (if labyrinthine, and although there's a map, the stewards would have come in handy). A haven of peace after the heat and bustle of Piccadilly, full of light and air and space and surprises. Not just in the artwork but the building itself – turn a corner and you’re up against a glass- fronted cupboard of elderly skeletons crouching, standing tall or in bits and pieces, which suddenly remind you how many distinguished artists have walked these corridors and profited from contemplating  those bones. The school was established in 1768 as an integral element of the Royal Academy.

I would call Exit Strategy Exercise a folly, but not in the sense that the OED defines a folly:  ‘A popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder'. Chambers Dictionary is even more finger-wagging:  ‘a great useless structure, or one left unfinished, having been begun without a reckoning of the cost’. 

‘Folly’, from the French folie meaning ‘foolishness’, indicates works which are built (usually in the open air) with great ingenuity and variety but what links them is a joyful unpredictability. And they don’t seem to do anything useful except be there. If it stops you in your tracks and you ask yourself ‘Why?’, as Exit Strategy Exercise certainly does, the chances are you have found one.
When I went into the room I seemed to be confronted by a solid, substantial wall. Now no one needs something of this size and majesty to divide a perfectly inoffensive studio in two. As you move closer you are faced with what is at one and the same time a barrier, an entrance, a crack, a corridor, a place to play hide-and-seek. Of course you are looking at a flat surface but when you push with the palm of your hand and take a step or two forward, not only does a way ahead open up but the pattern glides and sometimes jumps around into different configurations. (The image was even playful as I moved it around the computer screen). 

I like the 60s. I’ve never forgotten the moment I first saw Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares 1961  (there’s an image of it in Blog 35). I like black and white, geometrical patterns, minimalism, op art which teases you, art which you can choose to ‘enter’ and so become part of a ‘performance’. So there you are, no longer a passive viewer but for a moment an ‘actor’. My camera shot catches one - a gallery visiter passing through.

Blue Firth is half of Via Vaudeville! with Tomas Chaffe. Formed in Nottingham in 2005, Via Vaudeville! was aware of how few multi-disciplinary events unite the traditional and the contemporary,  and it wanted to engage a wider audience in artistic activities

No comments:

Post a Comment