Turning the UK’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on its Head

This summer there have been two unusual events in London. The first being extremely hot weather and the second, that a ceramic maker (the enigmatic Grayson Perry) coordinated the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA).

This year, the Royal Academy celebrates its 250th Summer Exhibition, and is firmly established as part of the national tradition of the UK. It is the world’s largest open submission contemporary show by exhibiting a range of art being made in this moment, in tune with the theme of ‘Art Made Now’. For the first time, the Summer Exhibition spreads across the new RA and spills out onto the streets of London’s West End.

Grayson Perry RA, in his role of coordinator, encouraged artists to enter work by issuing this statement:

Fellow artists! 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy, so the Summer Exhibition will celebrate a quarter of a millennia of artistic innovation. As coordinator, I have decided that the theme of the show will be ‘Art Made Now’. I want to champion the democracy of the exhibition and show off the diversity of art being made in this moment, so I encourage you to submit works that you have made in 2017/18. I am also planning a special ‘Room of Fun’ in a newly built part of the Academy, so the committee may well look favourably on artworks that we find amusing.

The response to Perry’s call has been some 20,000 submissions. After the selection committee had chosen their preferences there are a final 1,351 works on display. Together with the status in being shown, many of the works
are for sale.

What is so remarkable about the show is that it has work from established artists, members of the Royal Academy, and members of the public, unknown to anyone except their immediate circle. People working away quietly in their homes up and down the country, suddenly finding their work alongside some of the leading artists working today. And through the profile that Perry has in the media, he has helped add his voice to the steadily growing renaissance regarding the importance of ceramics.

The public know it simply as the world’s largest open submission contemporary art show, but it is important to understand that the Summer Exhibition provides a unique platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their work to an international audience.

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