This year, the Royal Academy of Arts’ summer exhibition is celebrating its 250th anniversary, and the London-based institution is pulling out all the stops to make sure the event is a memorable one. Turner-prize winner and RA member Grayson Perry has been tasked with curating the exhibition, which features more than 1,300 artworks and will be open to the public from June 12 until August 19.
Visiting London soon? This is a must-see: here’s what to expect from the 250th Summer Exhibition, the world’s longest-running annual exhibition of contemporary art.
1. Politics aplenty
Mirroring the 2018 Turner Prize shortlist, one of the most distinctive features of this year’s exhibition is how implicit politics is in many of the artworks. There are portraits of Kim Jong-un, Margaret Thatcher and a recreation of Donald Trump in a compromising position with Miss Mexico in the Oval Office. RA member Sean Scully’s work depicts an American flag with a handgun in place of the stars.
Two years after the Brexit vote, the subject still rumbles on in the news and in the art world. A portrait of former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage by an unknown artist is cheekily hung underneath a picture of someone vomiting into a bucket and next to a winking Pink Panther. Anonymous graffiti artist Banksy submitted an EU referendum placard with “Vote to Love” spray painted over the original “Vote to Leave” message. There are also two pieces that recognise the Grenfell Tower fire, which marks its one-year anniversary in the week of the exhibition’s opening.
2. Colour everywhere
It is not just the art that offers colours in abundance. Unlike many galleries and exhibition halls that maintain a more traditional white palette, the walls of the Royal Academy have been painted in bright colours. Gallery III is lemony-yellow, the Central Hall is a rich grey-blue, while the Lecture Room is “fleshy pink”. Well, it is Perry after all, who believes you can hang art on any colour.
3. Stars of the art world dotted throughout
You will see plenty of superstar works here, because some very famous artists have submitted to the collection, and their pieces are shown alongside work from the previous 249 years of exhibitions. The exhibition features work by artists from the very first exhibition in 1769 right through to the present day, with big names including Angela Kauffman, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, Zaha Hadid, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin and Wolfgang Tillmans.
4. ‘Joe and Joanna Bloggs’ on show
In keeping with the exhibition’s all-inclusive theme, works by famous artists will hang alongside submissions from members of the public or “Joe and Joanna Bloggs”, as Perry calls them. Anyone can submit an entry to a committee of RA members, which sifted through almost 20,000 entries to decide which ones to include in the exhibition. The summer show offers emerging artists the opportunity to have their work shown with some of the greats of the profession.
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5. Something to take home
Most of the artwork on display at the exhibition is for sale, with some of the proceeds going toward the Royal Academy School’s prestigious three-year postgraduate programme, which is offered free of charge. Some of the artworks will be on sale for as little as £100 (Dh491), but Banksy’s Brexit piece has been priced at £350 million (a nod to a Vote Leave bus campaign, which claimed exiting the EU would give £350m a week back to the UK’s National Health Service).
The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition runs from June 12 to August 19 at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London