Thursday, 7 August 2008

The tyranny of the red dot

I began this blog last year after I had been to the Royal Academy of Art summer exhibition. This year I haven't felt particularly drawn to go but decided on the spur of the moment that I probably ought to while I still had the chance as it closes on 17 August. So I went just yesterday afternoon but was close to changing my mind and returning home after I'd spent half an hour waiting for the bus. Eventually the no: 8 bus made an appearance and I was on my way. I usually enjoy being a passenger on this route because you pass so many interesting places but yesterday there were road works every which way and I wondered if there would be time to see any of the exhibits if I eventually got to my destination.

Get there I did and was very grateful for the icy air conditioning that was blowing through the galleries. The first gallery has been devoted to the late R B Kitaj, RA as a memorial to him. He died last year, at the age of 74, in his native America but he is fondly regarded in Britain because he lived here for about 40 years which always works for us Brits. We're also sort of fond of Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow for the same reason, but I digress. His work was also very influential on his generation of artists back in the 60s. I particularly liked two of his works, which to my mind are large pieces, and one is called Pacific Coast Highway (across the Pacific) which he completed in 1973 and Catalan Christ (pretending to be dead) completed in 1976.

In the next gallery there was, amongst other things, yet another memorial tribute to a recently deceased RA and that was Colin St John Wilson who designed the British Library. He started out as a painter before turning to architecture and there were some rather lively paintings on display along with some sketches for the library and a scale model of the exterior of the library in situ near St Pancras station which I enjoyed scrutinising as I have spent many a happy hour in there enjoying the exhibitions and eating lunch in the restaurant.

At this point I turned left into a gallery that usually has prints displayed in it and this is where the red dots, indicating successful sales, run amok. As far as I can tell this is where the general public might, if they are lucky, get their works hung. This room and the small one next to it have work jammed in them so tightly you can end up with a crick in your neck trying to take it all in. It was in this small room that my head began to swim so I went back into the print room and started to look at the exhibits slowly. I noticed one large etching of a landscape had several red dots stuck on the frame. This print was signed by the artist and instead of being numbered in an edition it was described as artists proof so I assume that this artist now has to go ahead and print at least four copies of this etching to supply her customers and since printing an etching can be time consuming that will amount to a lot of work.

Two years ago I undertook some market research of the designs for my greetings cards which are now for sale to find out which were the most popular images. Most people I accosted were happy to fill in the forms but one woman felt it was important to tell me that if I was serious about selling my cards then I should include people and animals into my designs, particularly cats. This made me laugh at the time but she might have a point about the sentimental appeal of cats since the print with the most red dots on it was a small etching of a face of the most ugly cat I have ever seen (you can probably tell I'm not a cat lover). I can't imagine having it in my house but clearly many people disagree with me. The other print that was also doing well in the red dot stakes was a small sideways image of an angel.

This is when I began to feel tyranised by the red dots. I was getting tired by this stage and needed to edit the number of images I was looking at so ended up unwillingly concentrating on the pieces with the most red dots whereas if there hadn't been any red dots I would have made different choices. The only sensible thing I could do at this point was stagger off in search a restorative cup of tea and a piece of cake before heading home.

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