Summer Exhibition comes to Royal Academy

We can’t quite get our heads around the fact that it is already August! However, one of the advantages of autumn being just around the corner is the imminent commencement of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition – arguably the greatest annual celebration of art and creativity in the UK (and dare we say, the world?).

This year, the show is running from September 22nd 2021 – January 2nd 2022, and it looks set to be something special. For those who’ve never heard of the show, or for whom it sounds familiar but you’re not sure of the details – allow us to provide a little background...

Photo courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts

Art’s greatest spectacle

Would you believe it, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is now in its 251st year! That’s right – the show has run, without interruption (yes, even in 2020) since 1769.

The show is the largest open submission art show in the world. This means that all artists are invited to enter, whether they are leading artists, household names, or emerging talent. The scope of the show allows for representation of art in all of its mediums. Expect to be wowed by everything from sculpture and architectural works to film, paintings and photography.

“It's an exhibition selected by artists, hung by artists... we just choose the best art, and try to make sense of it on the walls. It is a truly democratic exhibition.”
Norman Ackroyd RA, Summer Exhibition Co-ordinator 2013

If a visit to the Summer Exhibition is the only art-related outing you have planned for 2021, rest assured you’ll experience a broad representation of everything that’s making waves in the art world right now.

Master curation

Over the years, the RA’s Summer Exhibition has been curated by an array of impressive names, including Grayson Perry, Michael Craig-Martin and Jock McFadyen.

Grayson Perry, Reclining Artist

Taking the helm this year, for the second time, is British Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare. The Turner-prize nominated artist is best known for his Fourth Plinth Commission in London’s Trafalgar Square of Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. The sculpture was the first commission by a black British artist and was on display from 2010 to 2012. 

Through his art, Shonibare explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. For this year’s Summer Exhibition, the focus is on inclusivity, with the intention to create an exhibition that reflects the diversity of human expression. He explains a little further:

‘We will include artists who are not normally shown within the Royal Academy, and by that, I mean self-taught artists, artists with disabilities, artists from the African diaspora, and also artists trained in the Western tradition but who work in a more visceral manner.

We aim to expand the conventional notion of art, build a more inclusive environment and to give a platform to marginalised or overlooked practitioners who have historically been erased or exploited by the western art narrative.’

It’s a kind of magic 

Each year, the exhibition has a different theme, and this year’s is all about the celebrating the joy of creating art through the theme, ‘Reclaiming Magic.’ The theme invites entrants to not only explore the magic of the creative process, but also the very perception of magic and how it has been twisted and co-opted by western enlightenment culture.

Shonibare explains:

To reclaim magic means to regain power over the word. Magic is not the spectacle for the foreign onlooker, it is deeply ingrained in certain pan-African cultures and is a continual source of cultural creation.  

This exhibition seeks to transcend a Western art history perspective to focus on the transformative powers of the magical in art, and a return to the visceral, joyful aspects of art-making.’

Who will feature?

With everyone welcome to enter, it’s impossible to anticipate what works of art will make the show and wow the crowds. What we can reveal is that alongside Shonibare, the winning entries will be decided by an esteemed committee, which includes artists, Eva Rothschild, Tony Bevan, Emma Stibbon and Bob and Roberta Smith.

Over the last few years, the exhibition has been a wonderful combination of works from new and exciting artists, as well as featured works by Royal Academicians, Honorary Academicians and artists, including David Hockney RA, Tracey Emin and Ed Ruscha.

Ed Ruscha, Thinks I To Myself

One thing the last year has taught us is that art is not only a wonderful distraction from the stresses of life, but its presence and very creation is a powerful symbol of hope.

Don’t miss out on what is undoubtedly set to be a memorable 2021 RA Summer Exhibition. Book your tickets here.