We are told that the RA’s annual Summer Exhibition heralds the start of the British Summer Season. Maybe, for a select few. Without a doubt it the world’s largest open submission exhibition with weekend daubers exhibited in the same halls as the country’s finest working artists. 12,000 works of art were put forward for the hanging committee’s perusal; only one tenth made it to the walls. Serious critics love to sneer but every year the Summer Exhibition pulls in vast crowds of people, not only eager to see but also to buy.
In general I leave gallery guidebooks in the gift shop, preferring to make my own mind up and read the blurb by the works of art. The Summer Exhibition is the exception to that rule, I splash out £3 for the List of Works in which the name, title and (most importantly) price is listed. Armed with this you can look up works that you like and decide if you want to expend the necessary cash (prices this year range from £60 to ‘refer to sales desk’) or are happy to leave it behind. Alternatively you can look at the wackier works and marvel that anyone would pay anything for them.
A record number of Members have been elected to the Royal Academy this year and the first room you come to is devoted to these artists. The centre of the room is occupied by a mannequin balancing a pile of cakes on his back: my companion told me that this represented the world’s economy. Propped up against one wall is a vast canvas containing a transcript of an ‘Interview of David Nott by Eddie Mair’ on Radio 4’s PM programme. David Nott is a doctor who spends his holidays plying his trade in the world’s trouble spots, Syria being one of the latest and the subject of this interview. The story he has to tell was shocking when heard on the wireless but even more so when emblazoned in an art gallery.
Every year there is an Architecture room and it is always one of my favourites. It abounds with models of buildings that have either just been built or are about to be, as well as pictures of new structures. This year a model of the new buildings at the London School of Economics jostles for attention with the temporary Coco-Cola pavilion that stood in the ground of the Olympic Park.
I love the Summer Exhibition. Not everything that hangs on the walls is to my taste, but then when do you ever go into a gallery and love everything that you see? I like the incredible variety, I like the humour of the hanging committee (does anyone else imagine them considering their deliberations with little black caps on their heads?) and most of all I like that nearly everything has a price tag enabling me to play the imaginary game of would I buy that and if I did where would I put it?
Cups of tea and lunch can all be had with the Royal Academy. Friends of the Royal Academy not only get entry into all the exhibitions but also access to the Friends Room and the Keepers’ House restaurant. If you want to venture out onto Piccadilly in search of sustenance Kahve Dϋnyasi does fine coffee and macaroons.
ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS’: SUMMER EXHIBITION
9 June — 17 August 2014
Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm
£13.50 Concessions available. Friends of the RA and under 16s go free