Famed as the world’s largest open submission show, for more than two months the work of more than 1,000 professional and amateur artists sit side-by-side at the Royal Academy of Art's Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition is the art beat of London's summer scene
For an industry routinely labelled elitist, the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition might just be the most egalitarian large-scale event on the art world’s calendar.
There can’t be many high-profile galleries where the works of household names can be found alongside those of emerging artists.
But this is the Royal Academy. And this democratic approach to “art for all” is what draws the crowds to the institution’s impressive courtyard on London’s Piccadilly, year after year.
Famed as the world’s largest open submission show, for more than two months the work of more than 1,000 professional and amateur artists sit side-by-side on the walls, floors and – sometimes – ceilings of Burlington House.
By the time the show comes to a close on August 20, thousands will have trailed through the institution’s doors for what some have described as the ultimate arts fair. It is not only an opportunity to see new works by up-and-coming artists, but for keen-eyed collectors it is a chance to snap up a bargain, as most of the exhibits are on sale.
In the Academy’s own words, everything you see at the exhibition “represents the art being made today”.
Visitors can expect to find “a panorama of art in all media, from painting, printmaking, film and photography to sculpture, architectural works and performance art”.
Work from internationally renowned artists – such as Rosemarie Trockel, Julian Schnabel, Hassan Hajjaj, Secundino Hernández, Isaac Julien, Tomoaki Suzuki, Tracey Emin, Yinka Shonibare and Farshid Moussavi – are on show alongside names you’ve never heard of.
Anyone can apply to have their work shown. The Royal Academy received 12,000 entries this year from the United Kingdom and international artists, from which the committee made their selection.
This year’s event is coordinated by artist Eileen Cooper, exploring themes of discovery and new talent from her position as Keeper of the Royal Academy – the Academician responsible for supporting and guiding students.
A painter and print-maker known for her “magical realism” style, Cooper studied at Goldsmiths, University of London, from 1971 to 1974 and was taught by Royal Academicians Michael Craig-Martin and the late Albert Irvin.
She went on to study at the Royal College of Art and, by the 1980s, was exhibiting widely before becoming a Royal Academician in 2000.
The artist was elected Keeper of the Royal Academy in 2010, the first woman in this role since the RA began in 1768.
“As coordinator for the summer exhibition – and having been a tutor in art schools over many years, as well a practicing artist – it was very important to me to encourage a new generation of artists to submit work this year,” explains Cooper, who has submitted work to the show as an art student and Academician.
“My aims were to encourage a cross-generational and cross-cultural, wide-ranging group of artists to see the RA as a great venue to exhibit in – and to include as many of these people as possible.
“I believe this is the most diverse and inclusive summer exhibition yet and that we have a achieved a true feeling of freshness and welcoming in this show.”
The volume and variety of works in the show means that, inevitably, space can be tight and the busy exhibition space makes it harder for artists to stand out.
While some believe the crowded feel adds to the event’s charm, others have been less than flattering: one critic labelled it a “glorified car boot sale” and claimed show-stopping pieces become lost among the “mish-mash” from floor to ceiling.
This year’s show could well be its most international in approach. Ensuring the showing of works from all over the globe was a pressing issue for the curators.
Cooper adds: “As well as promoting the exhibition to artists in the UK and Europe, it was a priority to raise consciousness internationally about the summer exhibition.
“We have succeeded in showing artworks from all continents apart from Antarctica.
“I also was keen to be inclusive of many art forms, media, processes and art practice, including film, installation, painting, print, photography, sculpture, architecture and for the first time, performance.”
Founded in 1768 by King George III, the Royal Academy of Arts is an independent, privately-funded institution led by eminent artists and architects.
One of its founding principles was to “mount an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit” to finance the training of young artists in the Royal Academy (RA) Schools.
The summer exhibition has been held every year without interruption since 1769 and continues to play a significant part in raising funds to finance students of the longest established art school in the UK.
The Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award and other prizes over £50,000 (Dh237,028) are offered for every category of work in the annual exhibition.
Established in 1978, the Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award is, at £25,000, one of the largest and most prestigious art prizes in Britain. Previous winners include David Nash RA (2016), Rose Wylie RA (2015), Wolfgang Tillmans RA (2014), El Anatsui Hon RA (2013), Anselm Kiefer Hon RA (2012), Alison Wilding RA (2011) and Yinka Shonibare RA (2010).
Next year is a significant one for the RA, as the institution celebrates its 250th anniversary. It is undergoing a redevelopment ready for the milestone in 2018.
Led by the internationally- acclaimed architect Sir David Chipperfield RA and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the plans will link Burlington House on Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens for the first time, uniting and revitalising the two-acre site.
In addition to the redevelopment, an exhibition charting the RA’s history is to run alongside the summer show.
The Great Spectacle, as it has been dubbed, will illustrate controversies and disputes in the art world since 1768.
For more information about the RA, visit www.royalacademy.org.uk