RA Summer Exhibition
by Rosemary Simmons
This annual open exhibition is a barometer;
selected by Royal Academicians, it changes subtly each year to reflect their priorities.
The number of prints hung has recently fallen year by year. In 1992 there were 240 prints,
in 1993, 209, and now in 1996 only 187. Another factor is that Academicians, who can by
right hang six works, are showing more and larger prints: 49 in 1992, 58 in 1993 and 68
this year, so they are taking more of the allotted space.
Peter Ford, RE, deplored the selection procedure for non-RAs in
Printmaking Today (2, No. 3) and Joseph Winkelman, PPRE, now writes 'All except six of the
artists' prints are in the proportionately small ghetto of the "Large Weston
Room" ... with 22 RAs showing 68 and non-members only 109 out of a total of 1332
'This is a depressing comment on the importance the Academy
gives to printmaking by relegating the medium to a far corner of the building (and poorly
displayed at that) and small percentage of total exhibits shown ... so many gifted
printmakers were excluded this year. This very deplorable situation deserves comment'.
The irony is that many Academicians are well known printmakers:
Ivor Abrahams, Norman Ackroyd, John Bellamy, Elizabeth Blackadder, etc. At least 25 are
prominently known for their printmaking, if not exclusively so. Why are they themselves
allowing prints to be overwhelmed by painting and sculpture? Why do they acquiesce in
passe judgments based on technique? Or is it because the Academy is known to be the best
selling exhibition in Britain and prints are too cheap to waste space on?
Unfortunately this hierarchy, based on materials used, filters
right through all aspects of visual art. It is seen here at the Royal Academy; it is
reflected by critical appreciation in the press; grants given by the Arts Council and
priorities in education. It is time art was freed from compartmentalization by technique
and material. Printmaking is criticized for it but forced into it.
Rosemary Simmons is the editor of Printmaking Today
Farrand Press, 50, Ferry Street, Isle of Dogs, London E14 3DT, UK.
phone: +44 (0)171 515 7322,
fax: +44 (0)171 537 3559.