Cleaning White Art out of the The Royal Academy Summer show

The English summer is always full of delights, Pimm’s, open gardens to visit if the rain holds off, and a trip to the RA Summer Show an art feast since 1769, showing over 5,000 works including printing, sculpture, film, photography and architecture. This year 14,000 works were submitted, 1,500 shortlisted. I was fortunate to have two paintings nominated.  I read that the theme of this year’s show is ‘Climate’ and entered a self-portrait in a heat-wave and a still life showing desiccated objects.

I was, like other semi-finalists, full of hope, but didn’t get in. No invite to the traditional ‘varnishing day’ and cream-tea. Never mind, I have a painting accepted by the New English Art Club, at the Mall Gallery on June 23rd, and sold a lot of work recently. I’ve been in the Summer Show twice and there is always another chance – or so I thought until I saw the current RA Magazine; as a white person it seems my artistic future may be about vanishing rather than varnishing.

The front cover shows a Nigerian Nimba mask. Inside we are promised, ‘Radical change is in the air at the Summer Exhibition, as this year’s co-ordinator Yinka Shonibare RA aims to redraw the cultural map’. To, ‘Situate pan-African artists in the heart of a British cultural institution.’ He’s certainly done that and the theme is apparently not climate, which isn’t mentioned but magic, as in Yoruba spirituality. An artist called Jade Montserrat is given space to ‘Reclaim the idea of being a witch.’

In a feature called, ‘The Magic Touch,’ Kadish Morris, a black Guardian journalist, lists demands; capitalise B in black, return the Benin bronzes to Nigeria, pay reparations for slavery from Britain. (As Europeans started slaving abroad in the 11th century, England in the 16th, it will be a big bill.) She also insists that the 253rd RA Summer Show must, ‘Reclaim the walls of art history for pan-African’ artists and minorities. ‘Minorities’ in quotes paradoxically suggesting there is no dominant culture anymore.

Those worthy of selection also include the, ‘neurodiverse, disabled and self-taught’. Some of the greatest artists including Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Francis Bacon, Basquiat and Ai Wei Wei were self-taught but they are now seen as a whole new category of oppressed victims. The RA in its attempt to ‘Counter the devaluing of art practices from other cultures’ invited charities to get involved and Morris says, ‘Fifty notable artists of colour were invited specifically by Shonibare to show work.’ So much for open competition. Eager entrants once complained about the space taken by a few RAs who were automatically given space, but opportunity for the general public in non-oppressed groups must now be considerably smaller.

The show is all about race. Morris points out that the RA opened in 1777 the year that a slave ship left Liverpool for the Caribbean, so it must be ‘significant’ that the exhibition will show work by self-taught artist Bill Traylor a black American born in 1865. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 but no matter, the UK and the US can be casually lumped into one to make a point about white nastiness. Traylor, ‘Is now going to be central to the exhibition at the RA,’ says Shonibare. The show also presents a vision of the future governed by identity politics or ‘intersectionality,’ where competing groups vie for levels of oppression, compensation and power.

‘Taking into account the RA’s legacy as a historically white institution,’ writes Morris, ‘this year’s exhibition will reject ‘homogeneity and embrace diversity.’ It firmly places Yoruba art up against Donatello. In this world of woke, a carved African mask is equal to a Renaissance portrait. ‘The glories of western art’ are over, even the word ‘Renaissance’ must be contested as nothing uniquely significant ever happened in Europe, or at least as the RA magazine says, ‘European and African tradition – one is not superior to the other’.

Do not refer to anything foreign as ‘primitive’. A recent exhibition of ‘The Tribal and the Modern’ at MOMA in New York was condemned as ‘An example of Western egoism’. Expunge from your mind the image of Sir Kenneth Clark now as damned as Jim Davidson and Roy Chubby Brown, in his series Civilisation, sitting by a Roman aqueduct, musing that western civilisation survived ‘by the skin of its teeth,’ after the Romans left.

In his recent Salisbury Review article, White Man’s Art, James Monteith reminds us how Clark contrasted the prow of an invading Viking ship with a classical statue, arguing that while both were works of art; one was born out of ‘fear and darkness’ while the other ‘took shape in an image of harmonised proportion and reason,’ and therefore embodied a higher state of civilisation. He also mentions Clive Bell’s essay, Civilisation, which stated that for civilisation to develop tribal custom, superstition and taboo must be replaced by reason, self-criticism and objective pursuit of the truth. They must also be literate.

We are now dismantling the dominant culture in favour of weaker cultures in the name of diversity but often it seems out of sheer English embarrassment at our own cultural riches and success. This cultural cringe, the lack of self-confidence in our own culture is being passed on to the young who leave school and university imbued with the idea that their guilty past must be cancelled, and it seems the less they know of it the better. History if it is taught at all can now only be comparative.

The architecture room is hung by Ghanaian-British Sir David Adjaye, OBE, recipient of the Royal Gold Medal last year (the honours come thick and fast for members of oppressed groups) and includes a ‘soundscape’ by Ceyda Oskay called, Migration Songs. In a piece about whether A level architecture should be taught in school, Professor Frosso Pimenides, Co-Director of a BSc architecture course at UCL, says a firm no. ‘I don’t want students to begin an architecture degree knowing about architecture,’ he says, a sentiment shared by almost every UK fine-art course, even the Courtauld Institute which is now embracing, ‘Critical race art history,’ and establishing a ‘decolonised’ curriculum. Students must be unburdened by white middle-class ‘cultural capital,’ anything else is shameful.

Who would have thought that the RA Summer Exhibition, once as benign as a bare-foot walk on a summer lawn should now reveal how the Marxist idea of a ‘counter-hegemony,’ has marched through our institutions? As Gramsci put it, ‘In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches, and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.’ He might be a bit baffled that European socialism has been remodelled as US style identity politics, galvanised by an ugly anti-white racism.

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15 Comments on Cleaning White Art out of the The Royal Academy Summer show

  1. Those seeking/maintaining successful careers in the creative industries could be compared to high-class whores. They like to believe the seductive allure of their work gives them power over their clients but they must always be alert to their client’s desires (to the point of anticipating them). Like whores they face a battle with time and the inevitable decline of that allure.

    But everybody admires a rebel. The rebel posturing of artists has long since become routine part of the popular image. It serves to attract patronage and custom. In the mass societies of the West people are keen to see themselves as part of a more discerning sub-group – standing apart from the common herd.

  2. The front page of The Daily Mail online today shows a shocked Lenny Henry horrified (he claims) to have discovered a deplorable sea of whiteness that is the Glastonbury festival audience. Another British institution exposed as non-diverse and blatantly un-inclusive!

    Amusingly, Worthy Farm’s ‘Glyndebourne for the Baby Boomers’ prides itself on its wokeness. They dare not push back against an accusation of racism. By way of reparations next time the schedules will probably packed with wall-to-wall Hip-Hop, Rap and variants thereof. They’ll have to turn a deaf ear to the often sexist and violent lyrics saturating that genre. Who knows, perhaps privileged whites enjoy a bit of Gansta posturing.

    Does the music matter anyway? Enabled by the Internet, Woke-activism has become the new Rock’n’Roll.

    • @ Invitis
      A few further comments are needed on this complaint from the Chancellor of Birmingham City University, Sir Lenworth George Henry OBE PhD (net worth $9 million), which can be supplemented by a critical analysis of the article by Marcus Ryder on the Black Cultural Takeover of Britain, “The Guardian” online, 5 November 2021 (“Afro-beats, soca, reggae, drum-n-bass & jungle music” &c):
      1. Henry identifies cultures with skin-colour. Who is the “racist”?
      2. The supposedly still “dominant” culture in England has been the original native culture of its “White British” indigenous majority. Who is the “coloniser”?
      3. No-one stops non-white people going to Glastonbury which has also used music from black people. Who is the “libertarian”?
      4. The Glastonbury managers have promised to “embed” diversity (black people) and inclusion (sexual minorities). Who are the “house boys” here?
      5. Some British patriots regard the “sex, drugs & rock” techno-fest at one of our historically sacred sites offensive. Who is the disregarded minority in their own homeland?

      Maybe if this once amiable, and still moderately good, actor ever gets to play (say) Antony or even Cleopatra (as things are), I hope he will remember to wear his Red Nose – all for charidee.

  3. There is an elephant in the room! The elephant of the African Slave Trade, of which the Atlantic Trade was but a small part, and through which the Yoruba Tribe, mentioned in the article, gained wealth and influence in what is now Nigeria.

    People have forgotten, or, more likely, chosen to ignore several facts of history of the slave trade.

    African Tribes traded slaves long before the White Man became involved.
    The slaves were traded within and between the tribes, but were mainly traded with Arab slavers.
    The Arab Slave Trade existed long before the Atlantic Trade and carried on for decades after Britain had put a stop to the Atlantic Trade.

    About time people began to take note of the real history of African slavery including the efforts to end the foul trade.

    • @ Bob
      A few extra points re Slavery.
      The Great African Empires like Mali and Dahomey celebrated by “Black” History relied on slavery. The wealth of the Great Emperor Mansa Musa I depended on gold mines and his “civilization” was in effect a Muslim and largey Arab creation.
      White Europeans and Indian Hindus were enslaved by Muslims although not quite on the scale of the Atlantic trade whose evils are typically attributed to Anglo-Saxons, though other peoples were also involved on a big scale. Brazil was the last country to abolish massive slavery (see Wikipedia on this).
      The “parochiality” of the content and the “globality” of the US media is responsible for a lopsided view of black enslavement, as it is with the world significance of the “murder” of the drug-influenced miscreant Mr G. Floyd and its actually murderous consequences.

  4. Quite obviously I am not “an artist”, because, being interested in transport, I appreciate the paintings of Terence Cuneo, David Shepherd (he of the elephant pictures as well) and many others comparably skilled. “Merely photographic images” the art “experts” might say, but the skill required and achieved is of a very high order, because the slightest error is instantly detectable by transport enthusiasts. Compared with this level of attainment, much so called “art”, of any era, is, frankly, pathetic rubbish.

    Take another angle: Roland Emmett the creator of whimsy (he of the Far Tottering & Oystercreek Railway at the South Bank, 1951), another highly skilled artist, or Vicky and Giles, the newspaper cartoonists; compared with these, most modern exponents and some of the past ones are, again, rubbish.

    Look at ancient statues that have survived from Greek and Roman times, or from the mediaeval and Renaissance days; then compare the efforts of the likes of, say, Henry Moore! So in other artistic expressions: architecture, music, literature; the story is the same – absolute meritless junk, from whatever part of the earth, being pushed and extolled effectively to share the eulogy rightly won by masterpieces.

    The Apostle Paul wrote what proper standards were in his letter to Philippi (4: 8): “Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report …. think on these things”. And that was some two millennia ago. The Royal Academy apparently has some catching up to do.

    But then I’m not an artist, so I wouldn’t know, would I?

  5. It’s all very confusing how, why, a cultural identity can be made to be embarrassing for its participants… why?
    Same here in Australia where aboriginal mumbled chanting, albeit with an echo of Western string harmony in the background, is presented as significant and important art…
    Obviously the traditional fora for artistic dissemination have been usurped (along with much of our civilisation besides) , such that we need to rebuild anew- basically. Anyway, the job of Civilization was never simple, whereas the march of the mediocre, banal or destructive always seems to be pushing…

  6. “return the Benin bronzes to Nigeria”

    If we return the Benin bronzes to Nigeria, to which Nigerians ought we to return them? To decent Christian Nigerians, or to the evil Antichrists who five days ago massacred dozens of inoffensive Christians during Whit Sunday Mass?
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-61707872

    This is one of the many complicated questions to which the simple-minded exhibitors at the RA Summer Show ought to be pressed to provide an answer. If only they could be taught how to start to think for themselves, they might be ready to take their first faltering steps on the road to sanity – perhaps even on the road to faith, as exhibited by Nigeria’s latest martyrs.

    • @ PJR There are some acid reflections on this process in Douglas Murray’s “War Against the West”. Everything is being turned into its opposite: the British Empire implodes into the “Commonwealth”; the Royal Shakespeare Company attacks Shakespeare; the “Church” of “England” becomes the Temple of Multifaith or None; the English Association attacks the English culture; the former Optimum Population Trust now wants English white people to commit reproductive suicide while dropping opposition to immigration from fecund non-white countries; the Christian Monarchy goes faux-republican Woke; the “Home” Office…; the “National” Trust….; “English” Heritage….what its left?

  7. This article is indicative of why I have decided not to renew my subscription to the SR.

    I am not saying that it is uninformative or inelegantly written. I am saying that the magazine now seems to be rammed with nothing other than black-pilled misery, from top to bottom and from side to side.

    I feel increasingly like Robert Morley’s character, Meredith Merridew, in Theatre of Blood, being force fed dog pie through a funnel.

    No longer prepared to pay for it. Someone else can take a turn.

    Toodle pip.

    • Try Hello magazine. I see that celebrity Gogglebox stars Martin and Shirlie have created ‘an astonishing home’ in Hertfordshire. I’m a bit worried about all those logs piled scenically around the wood burner though. It looks like the whole place might go up.

  8. A brilliant article as usual.
    But that particular 89-year old picture again – a bonfire mainly of pornography and communist publications! Why not use one of the Maoist “cultural revolution” devastations which is a little closer to the actual ideological enemy de nos jours? The Nazis may have used Black people as film extras and Indians as military allies, but they did not replace German art, music and literature with jungle jingles and cosmpopolitan trash. “Scumbags” like Richard Strauss, Josef Weinheber, Arno Breker, Martin Heidegger, Gerhard Kittel & Hans-Georg Gadamer (pre-war incarnation) obviously not in the same elevated “genius” category as (say) Chris Ofili, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Rihanna or Digga D.