by Ferne Arfin 2 October 2020

Nothing stops the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition has endured 252 years, through two world wars and the flu epidemic of 1918. Why would a little thing like a pandemic cause it to be cancelled in 2020?

Royal Academy, summer exhibition, banner, statue, Joshua Reynolds, London 2020

For more than 250 years, nothing has stopped the Royal Academy of Arts from holding its famous Summer Exhibition. In 1917, a German bomb dropped through the roof of a gallery. In 1940, at the height of the Blitz, German bombs fell in Mayfair and Piccadilly, damaging some of the galleries of its Burlington House home just as the exhibition ended. On both occasions, the Royal Academy held the exhibition as usual.

There have been a few changes this year to accommodate social distancing and COVID-19 prevention. But this week, on Tuesday, October 6, the Academy once again welcomes artists and the public to the RA Summer Exhibition – world’s oldest and largest open-entry art exhibition.

This year, masks are required. As you can see above – even the courtyard statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds, first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is sporting this season’s must-have accessory. The crowds will be slimmer as the numbers of advance bookings (always required for this show) will be reduced to minimize crowds. And you may be asked to wait before entering the most popular galleries.

Oh, and about that date. Usually, the RA Summer Exhibition is held during June, July and August. In 2020, in the only concession to the virus, the exhibition is being held in winter – running until January 3, 2021. Which just goes to prove that nothing stops the RA Summer Exhibition…not even winter.

About the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

From the beginning, the artists who founded the Royal Academy set out to hold an annual exhibition that anyone could enter and everyone could visit. There were 36 “academicians” then. Today there are 127 and the exhibition is huge. Each academician is invited to enter six works of art. An additional number of established British and international artists are invited to participate. And lastly, the galleries are populated with works from the open-submission process – “the send-in”. Anyone, on payment of a fee of £35 per submitted work, can have a go at being considered for inclusion by a committee of experts. The result is a wildly eclectic selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, architectural drawings and models, video, digital and sound installations.

Some of the sniffier critics have accused the RA of staging a stuffy, display of mediocrity – perhaps because much of what is shown is accessible and enjoyable rather than challenging. But the curation of the show, by artists Jane and Louise Wilson, was already complete before the onset of the pandemic and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement. Nevertheless, the times are considered in the selection of artists and the inclusion of some confrontational work.

Some takeaways from the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

The sad end of that Mercedes Benz, above, as presented by Ron Arad at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 2020. Below, Gallery III is typical of the variety of work in this year’s exhibition. 

Sculpture, Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, Art Shows

Sculptures by Wangechi Mutu at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2020. Sentinel IV, left, and Sacrum Heart, right.


LED Net, digital art, RA summer exhibition

I’d Walk With You But Not Her, a work of digital art, an LED net by twin artists and exhibition curators Jane and Louise Wilson, RA.

RA Summer Exhibition Essentials

  • Where – Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD
  • When – 6 October 2020 to 3 January 2021
  • Open – Every day, 10a.m. to 6p.m.
  • Tickets – Tickets for time-specific entry must be booked in advance and cost £20 or £22.
  • COVID19 information – Masks and social distancing are required. hand sanitizer is available.
  • Visit their website for more information.

Find and book a place to stay near the Royal Academy of Arts with TripAdvisor

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