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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Summer Exhibition stands tall

Andrew Walker
BBC News Profiles Unit

David Mach's witty Mmm...Big Ben...What a Whoppa!
David Mach's witty Mmm...Big Ben...What a Whoppa!

As essential a part of the English season as Wimbledon, Henley and inclement weather, the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition has been wowing, perplexing and, occasionally, angering gallery-goers for 235 years.

This year's exhibition is no exception. All artistic life is here, from intricate etchings, through a whole menagerie of sculpture, to some rather left-field, yet thought-provoking, abstract paintings.

Wit, though, is never far from the surface, most notably with David Mach's outstanding series of slickly-executed photomontages.

One of these, Mmm...Big Ben...What a Whoppa! shows London as a Mediterranean holiday playground, replete with Thames-side beaches and scantily-clad bathers.

Fred Cuming's Ferry to Polrwen
Fred Cuming's Turneresque Ferry to Polrwen
Another transforms Buckingham Palace into a nudist camp. Mach's works, fantasies of alternate visions of the capital, are eye-catching, ribald and fun.

Among more than a thousand exhibits, two, in particular, catch the eye.

Fred Cuming's haunting, vaguely Turneresque, painting, Ferry to Polrwen, combines great subtlety, especially in his skilful representation of a lowering sky, with an end-of-era feel, strongly redolent of Turner's own masterpiece, the Fighting Temeraire.

Resurrection, a large, autobiographical, work by Anthony Green, challenges the viewer to arrive at a meaningful description. It is part sculpture, part painting and part installation.

Drawing on Green's own life, it features his parents, brother and wife in a series of interconnected montages which powerfully combine traditional narrative within a manifestly disjointed vision of life.

Anthony Green's autobiographical Resurrection
Resurrection, Anthony Green's autobiographical piece
Honourable mentions must also go to Kenneth Draper's pastel, Deep Cave, dark and provocative in the manner of late Goya, and Bill Jacklin's exquisitely-tinted monotype, Police Horse 42nd Street 1.

Other works bring a smile to the eye, especially Hen, Ivor Abrahams' epoxy resin sculpture of, well, an extremely large chicken.

But, to my mind, this year's greatest treasure is Sky High: Vertical Architecture, an exhibition-within-an-exhibition curated by the architect Lord Foster.

In a riposte to the notion that skyscrapers are bad, Norman Foster has assembled a series of majestic models of some of the world's tallest buildings.

Beginning in the year 842, with the decidedly small-scale Babadur Stupa, an Indonesian building of 42 metres, Foster takes us on a whirlwind historical tour of towers, technology and architectural movements.

Lord Foster's design for the new World Trade Centre
Lord Foster's design for the new World Trade Centre
More subtly, he also tackles the social and economic mores which underpin them all.

The Empire State Building is there, as is that apotheosis of corporate architecture, Mies van der Rohe's lavish Seagram Building. Also included is Foster's own design for the replacement for the World Trade Centre.

With exhibits split geographically, into west and east - whether to reinforce the impact of architectural cultural imperialism or to reflect the universal nature of design, we are left to wonder - Foster brings his sure-footed vision to play in an impressive and dramatic manner.

All in all, this year's exhibition, which is at the Royal Academy in London's Piccadilly from 2 June to 10 August, is lively, upbeat and engaging.

What do you think of the exhibition? Is it engaging? What did you think of the architecture display?

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Foster honoured with Japanese award
17 Sep 02  |  Entertainment
Lord Foster: Stormin' Norman
01 Feb 02  |  Newsmakers

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