The RA's 248th Summer Exhibition

The RA's 248th Summer Exhibition

23rd August 2016
The RA's 248th Summer Exhibition - YPIA Blog
Written by Claire Smith | 23rd August 2016

Lamentably the London weather may not always be yielding any indication of summer, however The Royal Academy’s annual ‘Summer Exhibition’ which opened on 13 June has denoted the beginning of the season in the art world. Now in its 248th year, the exhibition has become something of a London institution and is certainly worth a visit.

As you turn off Piccadilly and enter the gallery’s courtyard, you are greeted by Ron Arad’s monumental sculpture ‘Spyre’, an 18 metre tall moving cone which has a camera at its apex constantly filming the surrounding area from different angles which is then projected onto Burlington House. This impact is echoed in the stairwell featuring photographic images by Jane and Louise Wilson, and again in the opening gallery (The Central Hall) which includes a huge yellow neon sign ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, a hand painted photograph on canvas of Marie Antoinette by Pierre et Gilles, and a stone Petrified Petrol Pump by Allora and Calzadilla amongst others.

This years’ show is co-ordinated by Richard Wilson RA, and with a staggering 1,240 works on display it is as vast, densely hung, varied and subjective as ever. The open submission nature of the show ensures that all mediums are represented from watercolour, to etching, engraving, printing, sculpture, installation, photography and digital, from both established artists and emerging talent.

The standout piece for me is Katlug Ataman’s digital installation ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’ created from 10,000 LCD panels which hang above head height, each containing a portrait photograph of someone the Turkish philanthropist knew prior to his death fifteen years ago.

As well as art in a purist sense, the Summer Exhibition also celebrates architecture as a medium, and this year the Large Weston Room is dedicated to the unbuilt. Curated by Ian Ritchie RA and Louise Hutton RA this gallery commends sketches, plans and models of buildings yet to come to fruition by young architects struggling to sell their concepts, or ideas from established architects either too utopian for their time or that have been withdrawn due to political or investment issues, and would otherwise languish in archives. Akin to the other galleries, a wealth of materials (including paper, wood, glass, plastic, metals, ceramic and resin) and styles (drawing, printing, collage, laser cutting, digital and models) express the diverse creativity of display.

Anything controversial is collated in Gallery IX including Michael Stokes explicit clay sculptures, Rachel Maclean’s digital orgy prints, and The Kipper Kids provocative photographic images. I liked the fact that Wilson does not seem to want to provoke or generate conversation by being deliberately shocking, instead he consciously explores the theme of artistic duos in this years’ show, evident in Jane and Louise Wilson’s photography installation on the stairwell, Gilbert and George, the Chapman brothers, and a large kite sculpture by Heather and Ivan Morison.

Open until 10pm every Friday, the show certainly brightened my Friday night – and if the London skies are going to remain grey I’d suggest heading to the Royal Academy for a burst of colour, lightness and humour to fake summer at their aptly titled exhibition! 

Claire Smith is a Classics graduate with a MA in Public Archaeology and Museum Management. She has spent the last five years working in historic houses and public galleries in London and writes a weekly blog of 300 word reviews on museums, galleries, exhibitions and cultural happenings (primarily in London but sometimes further afield) under the pseudonym ExhibitionSmith. Follow her blog at or on Instagram @exhibitionsmith.