~ Posted by Robert Butler, June 6th 2012
At the entrance to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, there's a large wall chart ("Artwork sales") with 40 columns of numbers running from one to 1474. Today, the third day of the exhibition, about a quarter of these numbers have red dots by them—sold.
The summer exhibition—more than 240 years old—is distinctive for a couple of reasons: one is the way that it mixes the work of established artists (Sir Anthony Caro, the late John Hoyland, and others) with relatively unknown ones. There's no hype around an individual's career, each artwork has to stand on its own terms. The other, which follows on from that, is the prices. In the first room, Work 55, a lifesize polished bronze titled "Portrait of a Young Man Standing", costs £600,000. In the next room, Work 232, a woodcut titled "Servant of the Moon", costs £15.
The judges selected the artworks from 11,000 entries, but getting into the exhibition is only the first hurdle, getting a red dot is the second. For some lucky works, the red dots around the frame exceed the surface area of the work itself. Work 570, for example, is titled "Small and Beautiful" and has about 100 red dots. It's a tiny sketch of a sparrow-like bird, which costs £275 (edition of 300). Our managing editor saw the bird, liked it, saw the artist's name, and liked it even more. One of the 100 red dots is hers.
In the final room, there's a large acrylic painting which cries out for attention. The top section has a black background with the word "UPSET" scrawled in large untidy green capitals. The lower section has the vaguest outlines of two figures in bed. Look up Work 1446 in the catalogue and you see that it's by Tracey Emin, the Eranda Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, and probably the most famous artist in the exhibition. The price is £165,000. As yet, it has no red dot.
But then the sketch of the sparrow-like bird was also by Emin—so she can't be too upset.
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life