Making Space at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 

2024 marks 256 years of the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, an annual highlight of the British Summer social calendar since its inception in 1769, and a chance for amateur and more established artists from all over the world to submit their work. 

Ann Christopher RA, coordinator of this year’s Summer Exhibition, conceived the theme of ‘Making Space’, a concept that can be interpreted philosophically as a willingness to accept new ideas, concepts and cultural conversations, or more literally as a way of inhabiting or interpreting space.

The 2024 Summer exhibition features 1,200 works of art by established artists, juxtaposed with art submitted by members of the public. The final 1,200 artists were selected by the committee from a staggering 16,500 artworks submitted through an open submission. Under the curatorial direction of Ann Christopher RA, a committee of Royal Academicians including Anne Desmet, Hughie Donoghue, Cornelia Parker, Veronica Ryan and Hurvin Anderson have all curated an exhibition space, while Turner Prize winning architectural collective Assemble were tasked with curating the Architecture room. 

Axel Ruger, Secretary and CEO of the Royal Academy of Arts said: “As every year the Summer Exhibition is completely curated by members of the Royal Academy, our Royal Academicians. That group of Academicians is led by one of their peers, and this year’s coordinator is Ann Christopher RA, who defined the theme ‘Making Space’, which is very appropriate for the summer exhibition as there is a lot of work!”

The curatorial theme of “Making Space” loosely links the galleries, although with 1,200 artists featured there is the usual problem associated with the summer exhibition, of fitting the art into a limited space, which results in the controversial ‘salon-hang’ style that means some artworks are hung way above eye-line and difficult to see. Consequently the most effective rooms in the exhibition are those curated by the Royal Academicians with a majority of established artists. Critical reaction to the Summer Exhibition is always mixed, but the core message remains, of a democratic exhibition open for any artist of any level to submit work to, which breaks down barriers and momentarily disrupts the art world hierarchy.

“Making Space” as a curatorial concept is most effectively fulfilled by Nicola Turner’s incredible shape shifting “The Meddling Fiend” (2024) in the RA’s courtyard, a serpentine sculpture that playfully emerges from the paintbrush held aloft by a sculpture of RA founding President Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Inside the summer exhibition galleries, highlights include the Lecture room curated by Veronica Ryan, with walls painted the colour of healing spice Turmeric. Ryan has assembled an eclectic collection of sculpture, painting and installation art touching on themes of colonialism and environmentalism, including work by Yinka Shonibare, Richard Wilson’s model ship sculpture, Cathie Pilkington’s ceramic deer, Bob and Roberta Smith’s optimistic Art is in all of us placard, and sculptor Tom Waugh’s wall sculpture of an empty medicinal packet, which references our throwaway culture. Waugh’s Big Pharma (Empty 2) hangs with Poojan Gupta’s All Gone (Empty Blister Packs) and Sara Gregory, Menopause (Almost Full)’/ ‘Menopause (Almost Empty), creating an unusual new micro-artistic movement of pharma-consumer art.

Ann Christopher’s impressive curation in the main gallery of the RA positions vast canvases by Rose Wylie, Frank Bowling and Tracey Emin with Gillian Wearing’s photography, work by sculptors Richard Serra and Rachel Whiteread, an intricate wall hanging by El Anatsui, and an epic Sunflower woodcut painting by Anselm Kiefer, next to which hangs Nicola Turner’s Anxiety of Influence, a smaller and more nuanced sculpture than her epic ode to Sir Joshua Reynolds that kicks off the summer exhibition in the courtyard.


Other Culturalee highlights include; Ron Arad’s installation of a violin quartet; Jim Moir’s rainbow-coloured bird print, inspired by Conference of the Birds, a 12th-century Sufi poem by Attar of Nishapur; Claire Douglas’s Souvenir from the Anthropocene, a detailed painterly record of contemporary culture from lockdown to black lives matter and the fossil fuel protests, and Cassie Ireland’s Let no one harm me/ a wounded deer leaps the highest in Veronica Ryan’s Turmeric room. 

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2024 opens on 18th June until 18th August, 2024.

Photography copyright Culturalee.

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