As the partner of a VIP-for-the-evening, I got to put on a silk summer-dress and sort-of sensible shoes for a stroll through the elegant halls of the Royal Academy. Events like this one help to fund the only non fee-paying institution that will help in part pass our collective artistic torch to the next generation and that endeared it to me for a start.
The overall impression was of a happier and more colourful collection than last year, my first opportunity to attend the event. This time was more relaxing as I had an idea what to expect; that is, a more crowded set of rooms and a less casually dressed set of viewers than I’ve been used to and, vitally important, I knew where the Ladies was.
Couples and groups chatted and sipped and supped and gave every appearance of enjoying the occasion for which, no doubt, the artwork was in part responsible. Large rooms, flooded with skylight, high ceilings, wooden floors, suits and cocktail dresses, a trio at the door played the guests in and later reappeared in one of the rooms, a jazz singer crooned and a DJ provided rhythm. I would say it was the music that laid the foundation of the atmosphere built on with champagne, canapés and dishes for every taste and several allergies.
I decided to do some research before I went so that I would be able to converse helpfully and even intelligently on the display. This is, in a sense, the public’s exhibition because anyone and everyone is welcome to submit their enigmatic sculpture, cheerful watercolour, vibrant acrylic, stately oils, striking photograph or any other combination. I read that Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig-Martin had had important hands in the choice. Googling Christopher Le Brun I discovered I liked his work. It is largely recognisable creations like horses and coins that I can understand. Michael Craig-Martin took more work but what I drew principally from information about him is that he wants people to appreciate the beauty in everyday objects which seems a laudable aim to me.
The exhibits were, by turns, would-be-shocking, funny, joyful, sensible, pre-primary, confusing, tender, thought-provoking, exuberant and glorious. Perhaps it would be reasonable to say that the things I didn’t like I lacked the wit to comprehend but I saw three things I would have taken home and three that took my breath away.
The first group were all by Quentin Blake, famous for his illustrations in the Roald Dahl books, and tucked away behind a wall in whose shadow buyers could safely reveal their secret preference for nice, happy pictures that don’t require a second mortgage and can fit on their modest, available wall-space. Unfortunately my partner was not as enchanted as I was.
One of the second three was not a blockbustingly vast and vibrant canvas but a pastel-soft evocation of a pair of figures wandering hand-in-hand, child-like, across the sand and Into the Sea. A charming vision by Keith Tyson for the bargain basement price of £38k.
Next was an arresting piece high up on the wall of the Central Hall, enigmatically named in the catalogue as 2011 – 6674 – 2 by Alex Calinescu. A sort of extreme Rembrandt, it is black with light faintly streaking straight down and pooling on the suggestion of a floor below. Its beauty, serenity and simplicity rooted me to spot in a moment of nirvana among the chattering throng.
At dinner afterwards, my partner asked the party which piece, given unlimited funds and unlimited space, each would choose. Three out of eight of us unhesitatingly chose Deep Impact by Kenneth Tyson. A sheet of aluminium glossed and shining, on which boiling reds, oranges and black flamed and coiled. It was both warm and exciting and not for sale.
In smaller rooms were endearing, homely watercolours, what looked like student efforts, the sincere, the blase, the angst-ridden, the accurate, the passionate and the sweet. Although, of course, the work of the members of the Royal Academy dominated the largest space the stretches of wall given over to the aspiring public gave a sense of equality and (even if only an illusion of) meritocracy, freedom of expression and a visual voice for the people. Private View or no, yes, I would go again and again. For connoisseur or I-know-what-I-like, this is a unique celebration of art and the artist in us all.
Chartreuse is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and promotional videographer. She has written a feel-better film review column for Heath & Happiness Magazine, and is the owner of Heypressto. Chartreuse’ greatest inspiration is Abraham-Hicks. Her favourite quote is ‘You can be, do or have anything you want’.