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Review Of The Royal Academy Summer Garden Party 2015
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Review Of The Royal Academy Summer Garden Party 2015

Picture of Helena Bajaj Larsen
Updated: 12 December 2015
The Royal Academy Summer Garden Party took place in early June and was a wonderful way of experiencing both the yearly summer exhibition inside the iconic museum and the eccentricity of London‘s art loving population. Dress code: Colorful. Summer frocks and hats are encouraged!
Kaleidoscopic Staircase © Helena Bajaj Larsen
Kaleidoscopic Staircase | © Helena Bajaj Larsen

Once the guest walks past the gates to the ticket table, where, inevitably, your wrists get accessorized with fluorescent paper bracelets – you are handed a pamphlet indicating the different workshops, vendors and shows at the event and the timings for each. Drag Queen Extravaganza in the basement, Mad Hatters tea party, Paper Hat making workshops, whiskey tasting, croquet, gourmet burgers by Peyton and Byrne, a swing dancing class, drawing lessons, marching band, face painting, cocktails. An endless list of activities (although some quite odd seeming) to keep yourself busy and then of course the main reason for coming, the summer exhibit in the main museum halls.

About a third of the outdoor space had artificial grass laid out over the cobblestone where groups of people were setting up mini picnics, while others used it as a croquet field. Closer to the main gate, a seating area with tables and chairs had been set up under an imposing, rather large black sculptural installation. The workshops and vendors were all placed strategically in a market or fair-like manner around the edges of the square courtyard. A complementary drink was offered with each purchased ticket courtesy of Fever-Tree, allowing the visitors a quick refreshment before walking up to the museum to view the exhibit.

The journey up the stairs involved an amazingly colorful kaleidoscopic staircase that no one failed to instantly post on social media! The walls of each room inside the museum were painted a different color bringing an unusually casual (for a museum) vibe to the space and several bright green bean bags had been scattered across the wooden floors. Aside from the surroundings themselves, the people were quite a treat to the eye as well. Hats with little crafted gardens on top of them, bunny ears, bunny tails, colorful sombreros, pastel frilly mary janes, intensely curled hair and overly rosy cheeks chatting away left, right and center. The men were also quite dedicated to the costume concept and some were less shy about it than others (i.e., a man with a sparkly pink bunny suit – truth).

Croquet on the Lawn © Antonin Hautefort
Croquet on the Lawn | © Antonin Hautefort

Mad Hatters Tea

A long line-up was necessary for this one and quite a lot of fuss made around the whole thing. Once a ticket is handed to you, you would enter a rectangular room boasting a very long dining table at the center decorated according to the mad hatter’s tea scene in Alice in Wonderland: taxidermy, cards, fake fruits and berries, candlesticks, little clocks and all sorts of things you might find at your grandfather’s country home. Two actors, a woman and a man, began a heated dialogue and then proceeded to serving cold tea and scones and jam, which were in fact tomato purée and probably an herb scone – and tasted horribly. They distributed a card to each person and asked if someone had this one particular one. No one had it. They made the guests run around the table and play musical chairs. The idea was to get up and play another round until one person would find the required card. After about four-five rounds the group was lead towards a staircase which led to a hidden bar-like lounge. The room was magnificently unusual: exotic plants, plush sofas, rather frightening and very large, with Egon Schiele-like paintings. Mostly groups of middle aged men sipping on Moscow Mules and drinks of the sort.

Drag Queen Party

The basement, now that’s a whole other story. Drag queens were putting on a show inside a cavernous space that had been decorated from top to bottom in flashy pink and gold wrapping paper. There were things coming out of the ceiling, confetti or smoke, and the whole experience was rather overwhelming. Abba songs played loudly and about 90 percent of the crowd was cheering and dancing along, while a few individuals appearing rather stunned and shaken sneakily made their way back up in a hurry. It’s London, though; what else can you expect?

Courtyard Party View © Helena Bajaj Larsen
Courtyard Party View | © Helena Bajaj Larsen


Solely based on contributions, the show encompassed a vast array of styles ranging from landscapes, to conceptual installation pieces, to architectural drafts. Each room focused on a given category to minimize confusion for the visitor. The artists chosen to display their work originated from a variety of backgrounds and included established creatives as well as young students. Although the curation wasn’t executed very efficiently, a lot of works were of high quality and highly original. Yet it’s a shame they were all pushed together so closely on the walls!

Artist: Christopher Le Brun PRA  /  Title: CAN'T OR WON'T? © Helena Bajaj Larsen
Artist: Christopher Le Brun PRA / Title: CAN’T OR WON’T? | © Helena Bajaj Larsen

An unusually quirky and refreshing event, the party was snazzy yet entirely unpretentious and casual. It was possible to spend about four hours over there, and frankly that’s quite a while for a themed party.

Don’t miss the RA Lates series!

By Helena Bajaj Larsen

You can reach Helena by email at, or follow her on Instagram.