"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

19 July, 2008

ArtLondon #3 - RA Summer Exhibition & the Genius of David Mach

David Mach: Chairman Mao, 2004. Collage. Image Courtesy - The Red Mansion Foundation

There are still four weeks left in which to experience another annual highlight of the London art carousel: the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – “the largest open contemporary art exhibition in the world, drawing together new work by both established and unknown artists. Now in its 240th year, the exhibition includes 1,200 works, the majority of which are for sale”.

Another confession: I haven’t even bothered to go to the Summer Exhibition for the last year or two – I've been content instead to watch the hang on some worthy cable arts programme and pick up on any controversy via the popular prints. However, I found myself in Piccadilly recently with an hour to kill and I decided to give the RA one more chance, making a note to spare myself the mental and visual anguish invariably provoked by the over-busy hang of generally poor amateur efforts which yearly fight for attention on the walls of the Weston rooms.

The RA blurb insists that highlights of the show include a memorial gallery dedicated to the late Ron Kitaj (1932-2007) but after passing attentively through it, I was no less perplexed by his huge reputation. Gallery VIII, curated by recently elected Academician, "our" Tracey Emin, also failed to move me; it was, however, full of sniggering schoolboys – perhaps attracted by the “over-18s only – shocking works on display” warning.

The perceptive and always readable Andrew Lambirth has complained in the Spectator Magazine about the award of the RA’s prestigious Wollaston Prize to American Kaiser of Kitsch, Jeff Koons. I will add my own guinea’s worth of comment on the subject in a later post.

For me, the stand-out works of the show were the huge-scale collages, constructed from thousands of identical postcards, by David Mach (b.1956) currently RA Professor of Sculpture – & in particular, the haunting, veiled image ‘Visitor’ and its gallery partner ‘Golden Delicious II’.
I dream of one day owning one of these incisive and accomplished comments on 21st century society but I was sadly unable to persuade Mach himself, a genial leather-jacketed Scot, to let me have one at a discount when we met him at his 2006 solo exhibition at Jill George Gallery in Soho. Click on this link to marvel at the images then on show: http://www.jillgeorgegallery.co.uk/artists/mach/mach_exhibition2006.htm

My particular favourite is the one of Bart Simpson – a two metre square collage of Tao-Te-Ching cards which so faithfully reproduces almost everyone’s favourite prodigal cartoon son. Photo-collage began as a tool for Mach to describe and layout his large scale installations and public sculptures but they have now emphatically transcended this preliminary phase to become fully-realised works of art in themselves.