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5 Reasons to Visit the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition
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5 Reasons to Visit the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition

Picture of Edwina Boyd-Gibbins
Updated: 29 April 2016
Heralding the start of summer and showcasing the finest examples of contemporary British art across all mediums, the Royal Academy of Art’s annual Summer Exhibition is arguably amongst the most important events in the UK’s cultural calendar. And despite now being in its 247th year, it still has the power to surprise, provoke, and inspire, as this year’s Exhibition more than demonstrates.

It’s Immersive From the Start

With a large-scale steel installation by Conrad Shawcross, The Dappled Light of the Sun, greeting gallery-goers in the courtyard, this year’s Summer Exhibition immerses visitors before they’ve even stepped inside Burlington House.

Constructed as five interconnected steel ‘clouds’ formed from thousands of tetrahedrons, there is something overwhelmingly tree-like about the six-metre high and 25 tonne sculpture, especially if viewed from underneath when the light is dappled by the metal canopy, as if through leaves.

Even the Gallery Space has Been Transformed

Painted in hot pink, bright blue, and vibrant turquoise, the three Main Galleries have been given a complete makeover, with startling and absorbing results. Focusing on the ways in which colour affects viewers’ experiences of art, this year’s guest curator, leading British artist Michael Craig-Martin CBE RA, has transformed the gallery spaces and layout of the Exhibition. He’s even commissioned Jim Lambie to create a work for the entrance hall in the form of a technicoloured staircase, so that each visitor is utterly absorbed by colour’s emotive power before they reach the first, vibrantly curated gallery.

While the remaining galleries have been kept neutral, allowing the relationships and tensions among each collection – selected and hung by the hanging committee which includes a number of Royal Academicians – to be fully expressed, the running theme of Craig-Martin’s curation seems to be the subversion of expectations. He has given considerable space to prints and smaller works, with juxtapositions of scale throughout, and has also actively encouraged entrants from older artists, wishing to showcase works by emerging artists of all ages, rather than merely focusing on the youngest talents and visionaries.

There’s Something for Every Taste and Budget

Chosen from over 12,000 entries by artists of all levels of notoriety, from amateurs to some of the most celebrated names in contemporary art, there is a vast array of creative work, with the majority of the 1,200 works on display being for sale. And as every work has been carefully selected by the RA’s esteemed panel for the world’s largest open-submission exhibition, would-be collectors can be assured of the quality of each piece. As such, the Summer Exhibition – where prices range from around the £100 mark and go up to six-figure sums – is a fantastic place for seasoned collectors and first-time buyers alike to purchase art by high profile and up-and-coming artists. With funds going towards the RA Schools – England’s only graduate art school that doesn’t charge tuition fees – it’s for a good cause too.

The Works Speak for Themselves

One of the beauties of the Summer Exhibition, which has launched many an artistic career over the decades, is that rather than having artist’s names beside each work, the art is numbered, meaning that each painting, sculpture, print, installation, tapestry, photograph, or piece of architecture is initially judged purely on its own merit – on its ability to surprise or delight – rather than the significance of the name it bears. As such, the eye is free to rove, stumbling across the creations of emerging and as yet unheard of artists, as well as the works of Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin, and Anthony Gormley (each of whom have impressive and eye-catching works on display this year).

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It Goes Beyond the Gallery

With a string of accompanying events and courses on offer, there are infinite ways to enjoy this year’s Summer Exhibition beyond exploring the colourful galleries themselves.

There are courses on collecting prints, talks by Michael Craig-Martin, Ian Ritchie (who curated this year’s architectural gallery), and Conrad Shawcross, and family events for all ages, including children with special educational needs. There are also numerous awards nights (including the launch of the new RA and Pin Drop Short Story Award), and an Alice in Wonderland-themed Garden Party on 13th June.

Meanwhile, for those who are unable to visit this year’s show (or who are looking for something extra), RA has made the Summer Exhibition available online for the first time, with video tours by the likes of Tracey Emin, Sebastian Faulks, and Cath Kidston, as well as by Michael Craig-Matin himself. A specially created app is available from 8th June, with users able to collect and share their favourite works on social media too.

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is open from Monday 8th June until Sunday 16th August 2015 at Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD, UK, 020 7300 8000