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Can a Bold Curation help to democratise Art?

The 250th Summer Show 2018 at the Royal Academy of Art


Can a Bold Curation help to democratise Art?

“You go to the Summer Show and it’s a huge tumble dryer of art swirling around you.”

Grayson Perry, RA

Curated Crowd visited the famed Summer Show at the Royal Academy of Art this week, and its 250th anniversary show is one of its most controversial exhibitions to date. Grayson Perry heads up the show’s curation team this year. He lifted the cap on artwork submissions, and the 8 laboured their way through 20,000 digitised versions of artworks, eventually choosing just over 1,300 pieces to hang throughout the twelve dedicated spaces throughout the gallery. Each curator is an RA artist in their own right, and their voices are strong: if one likes it and the other 7 hate it, it is going to feature. The high bright walls are crammed with paintings by expert RA artists, invited artists, and amateur artists. All battling for attention, all for sale, they seek to resonate with the 200,000 visitors expecting thought-provoking and remarkable artwork this summer.

When asked how Grayson and his committee make a decision on whether to show a painting or not, he simply says “you’re listening, waiting, for that voice that’s going to lift your spirits, or suprise you in some way.” It is this open approach which creates a striking, clashing collection of pieces. There is a singular painting of a small dog, colourful abstract pieces, a huge, beautiful photorealistic painting by David Hockney alongside pieces that openly consider serious, important topics like Brexit, Grenfall and the state of the housing market in the UK.

The show is no stranger to outrage, last year it was derided as a glorified car boot sale by Karen Wright from The Independent, and this years event is at times “problematic” according to Ben Luke from the Evening Standard. Yet Jonathan Jones from The Guardian hailed the 2018 incarnation the “most liberating exhibition of new art that I’ve seen in ages” and the way the artworks have been displayed with “pleasing unpredictability” this year been praised by Michael Glover from The Independent. Mark Hudson deems it “weirdly life enhancing” and Perry has been praised across the board for his blooming, velvet Joana Vasconcelos sculpture in the opening room. The Summer Exhibition has built a reputation for showing some of the more progressive and remarkable contemporary pieces.

The featured RA artists give the show prestige and glamour, imparted by expert brush-strokes, near-perfect execution of art- technique and price-tags rolling into the tens of thousands. But it is the amateurs that stir the most emotion. By virtue of being chosen for the summer show, they know they have been considered seriously by some of the best artists in the country. There is something special about their piece. The Summer Show brings exposure and hope: the artists’ creative future suddenly looks limitless.

One thing is for sure: it is one of my most democratic, accessible and creative spectacles we have seen all year. We think it is vital that the RA deflects the mounting criticism that it’s “chaotic” and “hit-and-miss” and continues to show hobby artists alongside the professionally trained. As to whether there are too many paintings? Without them, the event would lack carnival. We feel a bazaar-like atmosphere coursing through the five colourful main halls packed with paintings, sculpture and 3D renderings of architectural drawings. For 250 years, regardless of the political and cultural backdrop in the UK, lively visitors point out what they love- and what they hate. Prices range from just under £100 to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Sales happen and careers are made.

“The RA remains one of the only places in our cultural landscape where you hear the voice of artists directly, unmediated.”


Gifting artists their own unapologetic space in order for them to sell their artwork directly to those who admire their style, is a philosophy we identify with, at Curated Crowd. We are the place for established- and new- designers to showcase their collections and sell their work through our marketplace platform. In the past, it was the fashion houses who held power, dictated the trends and produced the most desired pieces. But social media, a desire to be seen in more niche brands, and a new, open-minded approach to innovation in the fashion world has lead consumers to consider small labels. Designers who want to sell their artwork through a dedicated space, are able to avoid the pressures of conforming to fashion house rules, they can turn away from the quieting high-street, and stay true to their creative vision.

We scout designers from all over the world, from London Fashion Week to markets in Brazil. We invite rumoured talent to present to us. We cut through our wait-list quickly, by focussing on the important questions: what inspires us? Is it beautifully made? What constitutes a fair price? We care about our relationship with our designers, because they are the creative force who shape what we wear, and ultimately how we express ourselves. We are fostering the first signs of a promising fashion career, and we’re telling their future, potential patrons, that this person is one to watch, based upon creativity and vision. Like the amateur artists on show at the RA, our emerging designers should not have to concern themselves with politics, showboating or odd hierarchical systems. They should simply be seen. This democratisation of knowledge, design, production and advertising is starting to flatten the hierarchies in the art and fashion worlds. In its place? A transparent , thoughtful fashion industry, built on sustainable and ethical practices, and a creativity that is far reaching, multiple and celebrated. It brings to mind the forthright, imaginative Grayson Perry, and his reflection that “everything is now relevant, all at once.”

Grayson's quotes come from an interview by Miranda Sawyer, for her excellent piece for the Observer.

The RA magazine is published quarterly, it contains more in-depth coverage about the Royal Academy and their exhibitions.

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