Why the Royal Academy Summer Show is a glorified car boot sale

Is the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition nothing more than a glorified car boot sale? When you hear the media blurb for their 249th event – over 1,000 works by amateur and professional artists bought together in one place and all or nearly all for sale – it does sound suspiciously like one or a modest art fair. This was not always the case.  In the glorious olden days, artists like Sir Joshua Reynolds, JMW Turner, and John Constable were members of the Royal Academy and Varnishing Day of the summer exhibition were famous or infamous as both social and artistic events. In their day it wasn’t an event where works were bought or sold but more an occasion for artists to see what their peers had done in the last year. 

Tracing those august footprints I enter the courtyard of the Royal Academy and my heart sinks instantly. I am confronted by Wind Sculpture VI  by Yinka Shonibare who has done some brilliant and distinctive work in the past. These sculptures are intended to capture movement but sadly fail miserably. Lacking any sense of fluidity and charm they set the scene for the horror of some of the works inside.  Draping some of Shonibare’s characteristic African fabric around the neck of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy perched on his ceremonial column, seems to only add insult to injury.  

Ascending the gracious staircase there are two mysterious works with equally mysterious titles Here and Thereafter and Firecrest by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, one of Britain’s finest painters and a graduate of the Royal Academy Schools. She has been invited to show by the hanging committee led by Eileen Cooper OBE RA. Sadly her works disappear into the mist and if I did not know they were there it would be easy to miss them.

Tracey Emin’s neon sculpture ‘Never Again!’ (© The artist. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin)

Nowadays any living artist can submit two works to be chosen by the committee while the 80 Royal Academician can…

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