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26 July 2019

The RA – Summer Exhibition 2019

Alison from Equator's Manchester Studio visited the RA for their Summer Exhibition, and here's what she had to say about the day...


On the hottest day of the year so far, I happened to be (fortunately or unfortunately) heading to London to visit the RA for their annual Summer Exhibition.

This year was the 251st Summer Exhibition which has run without break since 1769. The exhibition is an open show allowing entries from anyone who wishes to submit their work be it photography, sculpture, print, paintings, architectural works or film. Entries and chosen pieces can be from absolutely anyone: members of the public, leading artists, celebrities, Royal Academicians and emerging talent.

The judging process is an incredible logistical feat.

  • This year 16,000 digital entries were received
  • These were whittled down to a shortlist of 2.500 pieces - the artists are invited to a submissions day where they hand over their work via the historic Tradesman’s entrance at the RA.
  • The process of the famous ‘Judging day’ has not been changed for centuries and involves the shortlist being walked past a row of judges who get perhaps 1-3 seconds maximum to approve or decline an artwork. The aim is to get the number down to 1500 as well as ensuring the art selected is diverse and targets the proposed theme of the exhibition.

From here begins the curation and hang process, which this year was the responsibility of Jock Mcfadyen, RA. To be selected really is a huge compliment and achievement – who wouldn’t want to have art displayed on the famous and prestigious gallery walls of the RA?!

After our early train journey, my niece Lucy and I arrived for our allotted time, already tracking the shadows to get out of the baking heat. The post-apocalyptic figurative sculptures of Thomas Houseago were aptly being scorched in the courtyard. On entering the RA, the buzz of the Summer exhibition could be heard from the Central Hall, which was filled to the brink with animals of all descriptions and of all mediums.

As we turned in to Gallery III, we were surrounded by floor to ceiling art of all styles and colour, in what is the largest gallery at the RA. We went around picking our favourites and marvelling at the cost of some of the pieces! My niece’s favourite phrase was, ‘I could do that!’, and to be honest she probably could have done. Her ‘non-favourites’ were the mop and wine bottle and the garden rake installations which were going for ridiculous money!

This show is favourite of mine, firstly because of the massively eclectic mix of work and secondly because the majority of the artworks can be purchased. In previous years I have invested in a couple of original pieces which I like to dream were the start of an extensive future art collection!

The summer exhibition takes up the majority of galleries at the RA and is a hugely popular show at the gallery, maybe not by the critics but by the general public certainly.  The proceeds of ticket sales and art sales go towards non-profit making projects and schemes as well as funding the RA Schools which are educating the next generation of artists.

Visiting galleries and exhibitions is always inspiring and something I think ultimately benefits designers in their day to day work. The importance of getting out from behind our desk and experiencing art and design in all forms brings imagination, creativity and appreciation which will then be seen in the work we produce for our clients. And that can only be seen as a positive.

If you are interested there is still time to catch the Summer Exhibition. It runs until 12th August