The Royal Academy of Arts’ summer exhibition is a perennial highlight of the UK’s arts calendar, reliably inciting thousands of enthusiasts and collectors to check into luxury London hotels and attend.
It’s also one of the capital’s longest-running annual events – it’s been held ever since the Royal Academy was established in 1769. One of the academy’s founding principles was “to mount an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit”, and it’s stayed true to that promise.
The Summer Exhibition operates on an open-submission principle; artists are free to put their work forward, whereupon a panel of expert judges debate whether their artistic merit is sufficient to warrant a spot in the galleries. Lots of household names make the grade, but thousands of up-and-coming artists – who may not have ever had their work shown publicly before – also get a chance to shine.
Among the star attractions this year are works by Turner prize-winner Grayson Perry and Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. Perry will be displaying The Vanity of Small Differences – a series of six elaborate tapestries depicting, in typically postmodern fashion, the social aspirations of communities in Sunderland, the Cotswolds and Tunbridge Wells.
El Anatsui’s latest sculpture, meanwhile, can’t fail to make an impression on just about anyone passing the exhibition’s venue. Hung across the facade of Burlington House – the Royal Academy’s headquarters – ‘TSIATSIA – searching for connection’ is an astonishing 23-metre wide, 15-metre high construction from materials like roofing sheets and bottle tops.
Entry to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition costs £10 per person. Burlington House should prove easy to reach for those travelling from the city centre; it’s within walking distance of both the Piccadilly Circus and Green Park underground stations.