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Summer officially starts Monday

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, that is.

The Summer Exhibition, along with the Boat Race and Wimbledon, are the events that signify the British summer has – or should have – arrived. Although the Exhibition pre-dates the other two by some distance. Captain Cook was just about to discover New Zealand when the first Exhibition was on and there’s been a show annually since.

This year, the 245th show is still the largest art open in the world. Any artist from any country – even New Zealand – can submit their work to be included. The current crop of Royal Academicians then choose what is hung. This makes it an interesting barometer of fashions in art, and the tastes of the hanging committee, who themselves are allowed to place their own work in the show.

While including art by known names has its pulling-power – Grayson Perry has indulged us with a whole room of tapestries – it does seem a shame that space is given over to artists who can be seen in major galleries anyway. Another hundred submissions could have been hung in the tapestry room. And it’s with the art from the wider masses that the Exhibition truly pops and fizzes.

The clustered works pile around the walls from floor to ceiling and are dizzying in their diversity. There are just under 1,300 of them so be prepared for a sensory assault. Yes – there are works ‘influenced’ by famous artists, paintings of cats and wonderfully wince-inducing portraits but, in the main, the work is solid.

More importantly, it’s interesting. This randomness of styles, tastes (and quality) is the Exhibition’s real joy. Like Britain’s Got Talent. The bad are as much fun to see as the good but it’s the wondering what’s next that’s compelling.

The vast majority of pieces are for sale so it’s interesting – and potentially lucrative – to try and spot future art stars. It’s great to stroll around with a friend, playing critic and discussing which works you’d buy for each other and your friends. And also for the people you dislike. There’s an element of fun here that’s missing from most other major art shows and its that that makes it such an enduring highlight on the art calendar.




Summer Exhibition 2013 10 June until 18 August, Royal Academy of Arts, London W1J OBD.

For more information see royalacademy.org.uk.





Words Mark King
Image © John Bodkin / Courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts

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