Royal Ulster Academy Exhibition 2010

RUA President Julian Friers talks about the works on show

Lovers of fine art have enjoyed an eclectic past few years following the Royal Ulster Academy’s annual exhibition around Belfast. With the Ulster Museum temporarily out of action, and the city at their disposal, the RUA had its pick of appropriate venues, and staged the exhibition everywhere from the Drawing Offices in the Titanic Quarter to the old Northern Bank on Waring Street.

Last year the former venue – now sadly a graffiti-daubed refuge for displaced pigeons – was given a new lease of life for the duration of the exhibition. No-one could accuse the RUA of neglecting its architectural sensibilities. But this year it’s back to the comfort and grandeur of the Ulster Museum for the first time in five years.

And whilst the museum has been given a makeover, the RUA is as fresh, vital and downright attractive as it’s ever been. This is not an exhibition for art snobs. Rather, by selecting 148 pieces from a total submission list of over 1500, the RUA has curated an exhibition that was designed to capture the public's imagination.

There's nothing overly complicated here, nothing that the average art lover won't - for the life of them - be able to comprehend. And with memories of the infuriatingly elitist Sean Scully retrospective at the Ulster Museum still fresh in the mind, certainly that is not a bad thing. It may be 137 years old, but the RUA should again be commended for selecting works that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are accessible.

'It’s great to be back here in the Ulster Museum, in a proper gallery, as it were,' admits RUA President Julian Friers. 'The previous exhibitions, although they were great and well attended, were not in what you might call proper galleries, so there was quite a bit of work to do to get them knocked into shape. Here it’s much more focused, it’s fantastic.'

As per usual, half of the works on show are by academicians and associate academicians, whilst the other half are by invited artists and recent graduates. So, works by established artists like sculpture Bob Sloan sit happily alongside pieces by upcoming artists like Ian Cumberland. It's a joyous celebration of the diversity of fine art in Ireland in 2010, with paintings taking centre stage, but sculpture and photography also well represented.

This year the exhibition was adjudicated by Royal Academician, Hughie O Donoghue. 'The problem is,' says Friers, 'that now the annual exhibition has become very popular indeed. There’s a huge submission, and that’s where the selection process comes in. It’s a difficult job, but the adjudication is more difficult still. Hughie came over from London to do it, and he was very impressed by the quality of the show. He reckoned it was as good as anything he'd seen throughout the Brtish isles.'

Although he was loath to chose a favourite piece from the exhibition, Friers did talk about some of the prize winners and other works that caught CultureNorthernIreland's eye. Watch the online exhibition below for a taste of what's on show at the Ulster Museum until November 14.