Summer exhibition: art, parties and a traffic-stop tradition

Summer exhibition Royal Academy of Arts

Much like the Venice Biennale, it is considered the pinnacle of sophisticated international diary dates for art lovers and professionals, the closer to home, Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is also an absolute necessity on any self-respecting culture seekers calendar, and should be every year.

For one thing, the Summer Exhibition is the oldest open submission exhibition in the world, celebrated since 1769. Without fail, every year, the exhibition displays over a thousand works of art, paintings, photographs, sculptures, you name it, all curated by a committee composed of artists and architects.

Unlike other similar events, such as art fairs or group shows, the Summer Exhibition has always been open to general public, and, what is more, anyone can submit a work to the committee for a modest £25 fee.

Artist Paolo Boccacci, a London based architect and photographer from Grosseto, is the only Italian at this year’s exhibition, and the photographer is not exhibiting one but two of his works in one of the main galleries.

Paolo explains: ‘I was surprised that I needed to submit only photos of my work (…). My photos were simply going in with a title and my name. In many photography competitions the winners are always reasonably well-known photographers and I have always struggled to believe that unknown and independent photographers would fail to produce images worthy of winning big photography competitions’.

This is the simple beauty of the Summer Exhibition; that anyone has a chance. The judges can either accept or deny an entry regardless of whether the artist is a superstar or a newbie.

So perhaps you are a budding artist? You think your work is up to par? Well, you might need a bit of luck. This year alone, there were an estimated 12,000 submissions to have a spot on the hallowed walls, and a three-round selection process whittled thousands of artists down to the chosen few. Following a first round, based on an online submission, framed works must be physically submitted at Burlington House for a second and third round.

You needn’t despair though. Even if you don’t make it, you can always take a piece of the action home with you. The majority of works exhibited are for sale, giving everyone the opportunity to purchase works of the most exquisite art for every budget, starting from £100 for prints, photographs and works on paper and up to the stars, for works by highly acclaimed artists.

Summer exhibition Royal Academy of Arts

Works however, are purchased on a first-come first served basis, and the best ones and most of the real steals are gone even before the exhibition officially opens to the public.

Not an art lover? No matter, there is something for you as well. The Summer Exhibition also means parties and glamorous gatherings including the legendary preview party, held a week before the official opening and one of the most exclusive events of the British capital.

The most important event however, is known as Varnishing day: originally the day artists would come back to Burlington House to add the last coat of varnish to their canvases and put the finishing touches to their works already hung in the galleries. Tradition dictates that the artists walk in procession from Burlington House to St James’s Church where a service is held. This year in fact, on the 1st of June, traffic in the city stopped and artists were led through Piccadilly by a steel band, playing ‘When the Saints go marching in.

Stratum vivum - ShadowBoccacci explains: ‘Receiving my Varnishing Day invite with the Royal Arms embossed in gold made me feel very special’ , we can’t blame him: being part of ritual like this, literally following in the footsteps of Gainsborough and Reynolds, Turner and Constable, is definitely an out of the ordinary experience.

Summer Exhibition 2015, Royal Academy, London, 8 June - 16 August.





artistRoyal Academy of ArtSummer exhibition

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