Usually, part of the pleasure and anticipation of visiting the RSA Annual Exhibition is arriving in the centre of Edinburgh, reaching the historic galleries at The Mound, and upon entering the rooms of the RSA getting a sense of the scope of the exhibition, and having those first reactions to works. That tangible experience is not possible this year, however the RSA team have assembled a wonderful online exhibition in a showcase of around 600 works.
The 195th Exhibition, the RSA Open 2021, which opened on 2nd April and runs to 30th May 2021, is again the most extensive exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture in Scotland, featuring the work of over 300 Scottish and International artists and architects, established and newcomers. Open submissions were very high in number this year, with over 300 works from ‘Open Exhibitors’. There is also work by invited artists Oana Stanciu, Erica Eyers, Sally Hackett and Darren Cullen, and invited Architects, Elizabeth Hatz and David Chipperfield.
Navigating the show online is easy and versatile, allowing for random browsing or searching for specific artists, architects or categories of work. Browsing can also be by Media, by Style, by Subject or by Budget, with almost all works available to purchase, and payment possible under the Own Art scheme. Works range in price from less than £100 up to many thousands, but artworks in a range up to £1,000 number around 200 pieces, about a third of the exhibition.
‘In the Studio’
Understanding of a variety of artists’ works in the online exhibition is enhanced by over fifty short films that artists have made under the heading ‘In the Studio’, giving commentary about their entered works. Esther Cohen explains the story and process in her work ‘Into the Wind We Go – Demolition of Cockenzie Power Station, 2015’ applied to a landscape series of ceramic tiles. Lauren Ferguson’s film leads the viewer to the realisation that the artist’s pencil drawings in ‘Walking on the Lawn Alone’, depicting a pair of clothes drying poles, are at 1 to 1 scale, all accurately detailed. Greig Penny, Architect, describes his recently completed commission ‘The Hebridean House’ South Uist. The video is particularly useful to convey something of the character of the new croft house.
More of the exhibits that this viewer has admired in a first exploration of the show include:
Victor Albrow‘s ‘Richard Holloway’ is a portrait photograph of Richard Holloway, author, broadcaster and the former Bishop of Edinburgh. He is seated at a table, with the burning bush in a framed picture on the wall, and a prepared fish on a plate on the table, references to his calling. Holloway’s poem ‘An Incident at the Bruntsfield Fish Shop’ is quoted alongside the work, as a companion piece. This is a photograph, almost hyper-real in definition, and yet it also somehow has some of the painterly characteristics of a Dutch painting of the Golden Age.
‘The work of a lifetime: Richard and Terry’ by Catherine King is a large scale work. Portraits of Richard Demarco and Terry Newman, both seated at a work table in their Summerhall office. In her ‘In the Studio’ video the artist remarks, ‘This work is painted in oil over two joined canvases, fine apart, but better together’.
Claire Needham‘s ‘Max’ is a portrait of the artist’s young son. An incredibly fine drawing, difficult to imagine that coloured pencils are the medium.
Sarah Stewart‘s ‘Corgi Toys 238’ is a screenprint of a toy Jaguar car sitting on top of its richly pictorial box, a nostalgic image for a small boy of yesteryear.
‘Recycling Narratives. Whispering Sweet Nothings’ by Hannah Gibson is in recycled glass – two separately listed Lego figures, one made from windscreen glass and another from milk bottle glass.
For ‘Sanitisation Station VI’ 2020 – Soap (variants I to VI are exhibited) artist Ladina Clement made castings made of different solid soaps – their form is an accurate representation of an everyday soap dispenser, an even more essential item in the year of the pandemic.
Fenneke Wolters-Sinke‘s ‘Iluliaq’ is an Artist’s Book of 100 sheets of tracing paper painted with acrylic ink glued in an accordion folded spine, emulating the calving icebergs of Greenland, seen first-hand by the artist. Featured in an ‘In the Studio’ film, where the sound effect of ice movement is conveyed by leafing through the tracing sheets.
The depth and variety of the show is such that it will need several ‘visits’ and many hours if you want to see it all. Fortunately you have the show at your fingertips until 30th May 2021.
With grateful thanks to Gordon Reid for this review.