Friday, May 27, 2005

RHA: Turn a Bland Eye

The annual RHA debacle is currently taking place at the RHA Gallery in Ely Place. The show consists of three tiers: work by a select group of invited artists (John Shinnors, Gwen O'Dowd, John Noel Smith etc.); work by 160 artists selected from around 3,000 works submitted; work by members of the academy.

Of the 460 pieces on show, the work by academy members makes up over half. There is no selection process for members so they can submit any old shite; and often do. Their work in general is bland, safe, figurative art. There is an alarming tendency (marked this year) for them to paint formal portraits of each other in their dodgy drag. Last year we were treated to 2 portraits of the ridiculous George Potter - looking for all the world like he'd stepped out of a G.K. Chesterton novel. This year there's a whole set of these ugly old men in robes. There are also far too many stilted still lifes and harmless landscapes. Why bother. There hasn't been a decent artist in the academy since Richard Kingston died - apart maybe from the anomaly that is Richard Gorman; an artist who, heaven forfend, deals in hard-edged abstraction. Well maybe I should add Martin Gale.

But back to the open submission selection process. Do these artists (each of whom contributes 10 Euros to the RHA coffers) get a fair hearing? It hardly seems possible given the scale of submissions and the circumscribed selection period. Well known names will always get in; and there is a suspicious preponderance of art college staff, while talented newcomers are often passed over. Maybe the problem is more randomness than any conspiracy; although there is a conspiracy of taste. I know artists who get in one year with serviceable pieces and are rejected the following year with superior pieces. You'd like to think this was down to the vagaries of the selection committee. However this committee only varies slightly from year to year and in terms of their art they are all fairly conventional.

One thing is clear from all this, there is room for a large-scale open submission show that will not be dominated by the academy. The Living Art show that thrived in the Seventies should be revived. All it needs is a corporate sponsor and a few energetic souls.