Originally quite a traditional affair, the event has been running for an astonishing 248 years – and annually since 1796. The Summer Exhibition is the world's biggest open submission art show and attracts a large number of entrants. This year 12,000 entries were whittled down to the 1,200 works displayed in the show.
Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition. Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
Why is this year different?
The Summer Exhibition is always a completely different experience to any other show in London. It requires time and effort, and a lot of stamina if you want to sidestep the hoarding crowds and bypass the less good works on show. But it is also a great chance to spot emerging talent and pick up works by non-commercial artists. Amongst the best this year, are James Irwin and Rhys Coren.
This year’s curator, distinguished academician Eileen Cooper, has tackled the provocative theme of 'Welcome'. With her mission to promote cultural diversity and art as a universal language that connects us across borders, it may be one of the most eclectic Summer Exhibitions we've seen in years.
Yinka Shonibare MBE RA, Ballet Africa, Courtesy of the artist.
The Summer Exhibition is a must-do, but it is hard work due to the sheer number of works on display. With so much to see, you may need a helping hand.
Here is our handy highlights guide to make the most of it.
Be sure not to miss the humongous fibreglass Wind Sculpture VI by Nigerian-British artist, Yinka Shonibare RA. The sculpture explores the notion of harnessing motion and freezing it in time, and it dominates the RA's central courtyard. For the last weekend of June, the RA courtyard will also serve as a hub for Mayfair Art Weekend. Check out the extensive programme of activities, workshops, RA Summer Solstice Lates, and foodie-treats laid on in celebration of Mayfair's cultural richness.
Look out for the stunning oil on canvas by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, as you go up the staircase in your eagerness to reach the exhibition.
The Wohl Central Hall
With work by an eclectic range of trained and amateur artists, the Wohl Central Hall sets the tone for the suite of the show. While you can’t miss the I did not say I can never love you Tracey Emin neon light installation, make sure you seek out Phantom Rhapsody II. It’s a beautiful intimate black and white photographic still by filmographer Sarah Pucill.
Tracey Emin CBE RA, And I Said I Love You!, © The artist. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin
Turn left out of the rotunda. This room features primarily Royal Academicians' works. Make sure to look up at Sir Craig Martin’s Violin, the most striking work on display.
Did you know that the magenta background of this work is the same colour as the walls of Gallery III in 2015 – the year Sir Craig Martin curated the Summer Exhibition?
The series of four Fiona Rae gouaches are also rather lovely.
Room I, Room II
The highlight piece in this suite of rooms is undoubtedly the huge, boldly painted block-colour oil on canvas by Sean Scully. For Bill Jacklin, who hung gallery II with Gus Cummins, the work opens up new spatial depths: ‘It sets the stage upon which the narrative of the work is played, creating atmosphere and space.’ We do admit that it's almost impossible to tear your eyes away from the work once you lock on it.
Sean Scully, Full House, © Sean Scully. Courtesy Timothy Taylor, London. Photography: Robert Bean
The Weston Rooms
Turn left again and into the darker Weston rooms. Go to the Large Weston Room to see Farshid Moussavi’s Architecture Gallery. For the first time in the exhibition’s history the gallery focuses on highly detailed construction coordination drawings, which provide visual instructions for everything involved in a building project, from lighting to fire safety.
If you go straight through to the Small Weston Room, you will come across the only two films in the exhibition. This year, The Invisible Voice by Danish RA Schools graduate Julie Born Schwartz and Phantom Rhapsody by London-based Sarah Pucill, will play on loop. Both films explore the role of performance theatre in art, and are eerily haunting.
Tracing your steps back, Room IV’s theme is object in space. Cornelia Parker’s suspended silver coffee pots and David Nash’s totemic sculpture Red Around the Black are the most intriguing sculptures on display and well worth a long look.
While more is always less when it comes to the Summer Exhibition, Room V couldn’t be busier. It is packed with prints of all colours, shapes and sizes, and so you need to take your time to get round it all. Anthony Gormley’s human figure made up of a series of overlapping squares is worth intense scrutiny as are Christopher Le Brun’s four woodcuts, which show how materials and textures can animate a single colour.
Room VII is the second of the print galleries. Look out for the corner dedicated to British artist Emma Stibbon. Her stark monochrome ink drawings of volcanic blasts and Icelandic seascapes depict the fragility of the natural world in a time of intense global industrialisation and destruction.
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Image courtesy of Culture Whisper
The sense of eeriness in this gallery is in part due to Mimmo Paladino’s enormous sculpture with dismembered parts and Tim Shaw’s creepy rocking zombie-like figures, whose rotting flesh could come straight out of a horror film. Add to this, the odd mixture of porcupine spines, skeleton hands, a hoodie and a bent over mannequin of Lee Wagstaff’s The Art of Being Right, and eerie becomes dystopian rather quickly.
Turned into a room of ghost stories by curator Fiona Rae, the most outrageous piece in the Lecture Room is Anish Kapoor’s Unborn. Taking up one whole wall, the pink and white fibreglass sculpture (above) is a disturbing and gruesome depiction of life beneath the surface. However, its hefty £650,000 price tag makes it one of the most expensive pieces in the show. The large Anselm Kiefer is undoubtedly the room's highlight.
Who is the Winning Exhibitor?
The prestigious Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award – one of the most significant art prizes (£25,000) in the country – has been awarded to Isaac Julien for his film WESTERN UNION: Small Boats. Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001, this will be the first time the work is installed across five screens since its creation in 2007.
As in previous years, the majority of the artworks in the summer exhibitions are for sale, in some cases for very affordable prices (the cheapest work is under £100). So it’s the perfect opportunity for both new and seasoned collectors to expand a multi-disciplinary art collection.
Pluck up the courage, grab a glass of fizz and make a day of it!
|What||Review: Summer Exhibition 2017, Royal Academy|
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
12 Jun 17 – 20 Aug 17, Fridays until 10pm
|Price||£15.50, Senior £13, Concessions £10|
|Website||Click here to book tickets|