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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Review: Summer Exhibition 2004
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Blindfold drawings by Hussein Chalayan
Hussein Chalayan sketched various objects whilst blindfolded
Veteran British artist David Hockney has chosen many of the works of art being displayed at this year's Summer Exhibition in London's Royal Academy, which opens on Tuesday.

A bronze figure of an emaciated man welcomes you to the show.

It is unclear whether he is dead or merely sleeping, but Ralph Brown's sculpture gives a strangely grim greeting.

Turn around and you will see a joyful dancing woman - James Butler's aptly named Free Spirit - which captures the dynamic energy of the exhibition and the satisfying contrast between its works.

Co-ordinators David Hockney and Allen Jones have focused on drawings this year, filling one gallery with nearly 160 sketches, diagrams and illustrations.

Unexpected

It includes fascinating works by unexpected artists such as dancer Michael Clark, England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward and film-maker Alan Parker, who contributed sketches he drew on the script for Midnight Express.

Heart surgeon Francis Wells goes one step further, embellishing his sketches with a film in which he illustrates a procedure he has just carried out - using forceps as a quill pen and the patient's blood as his ink.

Designer Hussein Chalayan has added a series of drawings completed whilst blindfolded, which explains their childish nature but does not increase their appeal.

Sir Terry Frost's Contrasts in Red, Black and White
Sir Terry Frost's hypnotic installation livens up the floor space
More straightforwardly satisfying are energetic cartoons by Quentin Blake and Gerald Scarfe, whose Bush Comes To Town depicts the US president and Tony Blair leading a march of transatlantic coffins.

Despite its noble aim to elevate the status of drawing, this centrepiece gallery fails to dominate the exhibition's 14 separate display spaces.

Playful

One piece which literally stands out among the 1,245 pieces on display is Ivor Abrahams' magnificent Urban Owl.

This huge resin bird has made its home in the lecture room, the most playful exhibition space, which it shares with a man with a fish on his head (by Angie Butler), a girl and a hedgehog listening to records (Alix Soubiran-Hall) and a man with a field coming out of his eye (Anthony Green).

David Hockney's Andalusian watercolours are tame by comparison, while fellow exhibition co-ordinator Allen Jones gets more in the spirit of things with six vibrant and sensual paintings.

Play For Today by Allen Jones
Allen Jones' paintings reflect the playful spirit of the exhibition
Installations by Sol LeWitt and Sir Terry Frost enliven the floor space, with the former's Open Geometric Structure Two transforming hundreds of small white boxes into an impressively large set of steps.

Despite the broad range of art being exhibited, there is real harmony in each display area.

Admittedly moving from one room to the next can be a shock to the senses, yet the overriding spirit of fun means it is well worth putting aside a day to visit the exhibition.

You may hate some of it, you may love much of it, but you will find it difficult to shake that image of the table with an udder for a leg.

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition runs from 8 June until 16 August.




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