The approach to this exhibition at The Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, is through the palatial courtyard, containing four sculptures by David Smith (part of the exhibition) in front of the permanent statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Their backcloth should be the imposing architecture of Burlington House itself but the facade is visually despoiled by a large poster draped over it announcing in a shouty sort of way that this is where the RA exhibition of ‘Abstract Expressionism’ is.
The names used on the poster as the come-on are interesting: Still, Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Newman, Kline, Mitchell and Smith. Equally interesting are names of relevant artists who are not listed e.g. Guston, Reinhart, Diebenkorn and Gottlieb. Are they absent because they are not in the exhibition or because they are regarded by the RA as not very important?
I am going to cut this short now because, in checking my material on the exhibition, I have just realised the exhibition ends on 2nd January, 2017 i.e. next Monday, and it is very important that any reader should, if they can, go to see it.
I went twice, with a two month gap between visits. I was blown away on my first visit – by the sheer size of the exhibition, the sheer size of numerous paintings, the colour on the canvases, the freedom of expression displayed. On my second visit, the great paintings stood out – and I picked out some paintings which were not, I thought, very good. The sculpture throughout the exhibition, scarcely noticed as my eyes were dazzled by the walls first time round, was now more prominent, relevant and in some cases also very strong.
Photography, incidentally, is not allowed in the exhibition, which is why this note is illustrated by only one outside image.
If you can, go to see this exhibition before it closes on Monday evening. It will be a long time before you can see its like again in the UK, and most of the art on display locally around the country year on year is as if ‘Abstract Expressionism’ had never happened.