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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Summer Exhibition 2024: The Royal Academy

★★★

Exhibition Review: The Royal Academy, 18 June - 18 August 2024. Tickets from £22. Concessions Available. Book tickets here. #RASummer

[Disclosure: I attended the press day on 11 June for this exhibition for free, for the purposes of this review.]

Summer Exhibition
Summer Exhibition

The world’s largest open submission art exhibition, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, is about to open to the public.  This year’s curation has been overseen by sculptor and royal academician, Anne Christopher.  Christopher has chosen four other artists and one art collective to curate the 12 galleries that make up the exhibition.

 

Each year, the exhibition theme is deliberately broad, and open to the curators’ interpretations.  However, this year, the theme, “Making Space” seems particularly amorphous. So much so, that there did not seem to be any particularly unifying element for the curators to catch hold of. Having said that, there is a feeling of spaciousness in some of the galleries, and given that there are over 1600 pieces on display, that is quite an achievement.

Summer Exhibition
Gallery III, the main gallery - feeling unusually spacious for a Summer Exhibition

The curation this year felt mostly lack lustre to me – a series of generally gentle, and safe displays.  You will find something tasteful that you’d like to hang in your house – but I think it’s unlikely that your mind will be blown. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some individual gems - but you really have to work to find them.

 

Summer Exhibition
Sophia by Michael de Bono, oil on panel.

It's not all insipidly tasteful though.  This year, I noticed a much greater emphasis on sculpture of all types, especially wall hung sculptures.  I also noted a much more prominent display of pieces that might have been previously excluded as Art because of a craft classification.

Summer Exhibition
Cauldron by Cathy de Monchaux, copper wire, bandage, paint and pigment.

This is a real welcome change, as the exclusion of textile crafts (and embroidery in particular) has been a historical distinction underpinned by a narrative based in exclusion, colonialism and misogyny.  It's wonderful to see these old distinctions swept aside in this year’s Summer Exhibition with so many phenomenal textile pieces on display.

Summer Exhibition
DIN by Blaire Cahill, embroidery on cotton

Another change this year was the way architecture is displayed.  Normally, the architectural pieces are packed together in the Large Weston Room.  This year, however, there were two galleries, Gallery VI and the Wohl Central Hall that were curated by the architecture and art collective Assemble.  Despite light flooding these two galleries, I thought they were the weakest in the entire exhibition – haphazard and lacking any obvious point of view. 

Summer Exhibition
Gallery VI, curated by art/architecture collective Assemble.

We were told that in these rooms the curators turned the theme on its head – creating a Space for Making, rather than Making Space – and if that is what the curators wanted to achieve in their galleries, I think they were successful.  These two galleries did feel like spaces that you could build something in – with a working art studio feel.

Summer Exhibition
Wohl Central Hall curated by art/architecture collective Assemble

While I do think that the Making Space theme was so broad as to become almost meaningless, there were some themes that emerged across the galleries.  Birds featured heavily in many of the works across the galleries – in print, mosaic, paint, textiles and sculpture.  Other trends that featured prominently were the natural and urban environments, and the weather. 

Summer Exhibition
Gallery VIII curate by Anne Desmet

It seemed to me that portraiture was slightly less popular this year as compared to past years- particularly compared to last year’s Summer Exhibition themed, Only Connect, which was rich with portraits.

Summer Exhibition
Gary Clam by Joe Lycett, glazed ceramic

This year’s Summer Exhibition is spacious in a way that previous Summer Exhibitions haven’t been – it’s also subdued and, for me, a little bit soporific.

Summer Exhibition
It wouldn't be a Summer Exhibition without some Tracey Emin
 

Feature image of The Meddling Fiend, a mixed media piece including horsehair, wool, wood and brass by Nicola Turner.

If you enjoyed reading this review, you may enjoy reading my reviews of previous Summer Exhibitions, as well as my reviews of other exhibition at the Royal Academy here.


All photos © Catherine Flutsch 2024.

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