We interviewed Richard Wilson, one of Britain’s most renowned sculptors, about his role coordinating this year’s Summer Exhibition. We chatted about the artists he has invited, his reasons for highlighting artist duos, and advice for anyone thinking of entering next year.
The interview was recorded on the 1st June 2016 using speaker phone and the voice memo app on an iPhone. It was recorded in the Art UK offices, so apologies if you hear typing or squeaking door frames!
Art UK: How have you found the process?
Richard: I’ve had nearly 40 years in the art world making site specific work. I don’t do stress. Everyone had real fun this year.
I’ve produced an exhibition within an exhibition – similar to Michael Craig Martin. He did an exhibition of artists who hadn’t had quite the recognition as some others. I’ve picked up on that model and I’ve decided to do an exhibition about duos. Not ensemble. I’ve worked with those that are two. Obvious ones are Gilbert & George, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Langlands & Bell – where A plus B makes C. There is a predominance of duos in the rotunda. That rotunda has five, possibly six duos, but each room has at least one duo exhibiting.
Art UK: What gave you the idea to do duos?
Richard: I thought I’d come up with a theme like Michael Craig Martin. There has been a particular debate in the RA since I’ve been a member since 2006, about allowing artist duos into the RA. I think artist duos are as valid as individuals.
There used to be a time by a perceived risk of instability by dealers in the art world. There are lots of successful – commercially and otherwise – artist duos. There are technical issues with duos – but those problems are not insurmountable.
I have created an exhibition of duos – and put them in between individuals – to test the waters with our audience.
I hope it changes the rules. I hope I’ve had something to say about the RA in 2016.
Art UK: Is there one particular work in the open submission that you’re excited about the public’s reaction to?
Richard: The works in room 6 that I’ve chosen are there to support a narrative in the room. The narrative is how art can heal – how it can rejuvenate.
I’ve invited an artist I met in 2013 – a Japanese artist from city of Sendai – his concept is about fixing – it goes beyond restoration of the past. Since the catastrophe [earthquake in 2011], he’s been going around Sendai and collecting bits of rubble. In the show he’s got three beautiful sculptures on plinths. It’s where he’s found a Saki bottle, a bowl – he’s mending them and then transformed them. They hint at the possible loss of the owner of the Saki bottle in that catastrophe. In the mending of the piece of work – there is a sense of reincarnation of the memory of the person who lost that bottle – art as a healing process. Bringing him into the exhibition is a beautiful moment in the exhibition.
His name is Fumiaki Aono. He makes new objects – they become the eternal holder of the memory of the person who owned those broken moments – that went through that destruction. They are very beautiful, magical and emotional. They transcend what they were and become something other.
Art UK: It sounds like there is going to be a lot to think about.
Richard: I want something that is unpredictable, stimulating, enjoyable but also uplifting and amazing for you.
It was a tall order following on from Michael Craig Martin – he changed the goal posts. Using his model – I’ve taken his ideas future – I’m hoping it will be a successful show. I think we’ll get a lot of excitement.
Art UK: Are any of your work being displayed?
Richard: Four small works. I’ve got one print in – which harks to my sound career – which I tamper with sometimes. Three maquettes are also there – one is slipstream from Heathrow – Queen’s Terminal, and the other two are of unrealised projects.
One is called City Block – it is a sculpture for a city – about scanning a city’s architecture and forming bricks of them.
The other is a wheel house of a ship – motoring around of an ever continuing circle.
They’re in there to see if anyone is interested to pick them up – maybe a seaside resort.
Art UK: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the summer exhibition next year?
Richard: You’ve got to believe in yourself. Don’t do second best. There is a large panel who sit and look at these works. If you believe in it – that will come across.
We are now making our first selection digitally. Whatever you send in as an image of your work – whatever you send in has to look good digitally.
If you are going to want to be an artist and you want to be a professional – get professional.
Art UK: We in the process of finding matched funding to digitise publicly owned sculpture – what is your favourite piece of publicly owned sculpture?
Richard: There is an extraordinary moment on white cliffs of Dover where there is a concrete aeroplane. It’s where the Bleriot brothers touched down.
I like things that aren’t declared as art – I like watching people standing on the crack on Tower Bridge. It’s always curious to see what’s happening with the Fourth Plinth. I also love the Artillery Gun at Hyde Park Corner – by Jagger.
Art UK: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
This interview was conducted by Alice Payne, Head of Content at Art UK