Awesome or awful? The summer show is on

Ever since the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was the talk of Georgian London exhibits have ranged between the Really Awesome and Really Awful. The 241st exhibition is up and running and Ian Collins is staggering after a marathon preview.

The 241st Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is up and running. Ian Collins is staggering after a marathon preview.

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Ever since the RA Summer Exhibition was the talk of Georgian London exhibits have ranged between the Really Awesome and Really Awful. But therein lies the fun.

The world's biggest open art show - around 10,000 works submitted, 1,266 selected - sees amateurs and professionals competing on equal terms to hang alongside the Royal Academicians. The range runs from miniatures to monuments, spanning painting, drawing, print-making, photography, sculpture, architecture and - for the first time - film.

East Anglian offerings include an image of a ruined house by King's Lynn's Lee Madgwick near a wrecked boat by Wymondham's Simon Wright and an immaculate small town in tempera by another Lynn artist, Michael Johnson.

A brace of Norwich painters sums up this diverse display - the hyper-realism of Joceline Wickham's The Last Sprouts contrasting with the dazzling abstraction of Zheni Warner's Stained with a Thousand Fires by Ocean Suns.

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And near the tiny threaded townscape of Halesworth's Ann Ward there's an airy linocut of cumulus clouds billowing above a farm gate by Rebecca Hearle of King's Lynn - though the latter's title (Ride the Calm Mid-Heaven) is horribly apt as it hangs almost sky-high.

It's good to meet up with old friends - from the bright and breezy Walberswick of William Bowyer to the ravishing romance of Jeffery Camp, whose lovers now cavort above Beachy Head where once they found bliss in Corton, Pakefield or Kessingland.

But, as with recent RA summer shows, the best bits are in the Architecture Room. And no wonder for the latest selector is Sheringham-based but globally-designing, Sterling Prize-winning and Prince of Wales-bating, Will Alsop.

This prolific painter and designer shows that architecture can be fabulous and fantastic and quite unlike buildings as we know them…and closer to art and sculpture.

He proves his point with a beautiful big brushed and dribbled acrylic of flowers entitled I Wish My Garden Was Really Like This.

His gallery is painted black and lined with shelves to house all manner of models and sculptures. At times it is marvellously loopy.

Alsop exhibits are the oddest. A crumple of wire mesh is a Juice Bar in Manchester while a Residential Tower in Toronto seems to be a yellow box hung with purple pears and topped off with a block of ice .

An Office Building in Manchester resembles a misshapen aquarium on spindly legs. Ferry Terminal, Dubai, a hangar with zig-zag cut-outs, is camouflaged as a zebra.

These are buildings to go crazy about, or maybe to go mad in.

Not that models by Burnham Market resident and RA president Sir Nicholas Grimshaw are exactly on the staid side. His Concept Model for Newport Station, Wales mimics two flowers on a stalk, while a New York arts center is surely a Gouda cheese with internal acoustic walls the spit of graters.

More down to earth (though displayed too high) is the latest gem by Snape's Sir Michael Hopkins - already enriching Norwich with The Forum and the cathedral refectory and (very soon) hostry. His Maharashtra Cricket Association structure is a great white liner shaded with a flat wing-like sail.

And Remodulated Environment by Tittleshall's Alexander Hills could be a crumbling temple or an incomplete jigsaw puzzle with its lovely lattice of open and inter-locking forms. It's actually a degree-work design for a jeweller's workshop in Marrakech.

Will Alsop says: '2009 has been challenging so far and we're thinking on our feet. As an architect, you've got to work on the basis that there'll be no new buildings in the UK this year.

'So you've got to get on your bike, making new alliances from people with different disciplines, including artists. It could be quite exciting.'

It already is. Three wild cheers for Will power.

*The RA Summer Exhibition runs until August 16. Most works are for sale. Open Sat to Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-10pm. Admission �7, concessions from �3. Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.