Exhibition Preview | The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy
In the latest issue of PMC Notes (October 2016), pp. 4–7.
The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibitions, 1769–2017
Royal Academy of Arts, London, opening June 2018
Curated by Mark Hallett and Sarah Turner
The Royal Academy’s summer exhibition is the world’s longest running annual display of contemporary art. Ever since 1769, and at a succession of locations ranging from Pall Mall to Piccadilly, the Academy’s exhibition rooms have been crowded for some two months each year with hundreds of paintings and sculptures produced by many of Britain’s leading artists. Over the last two hundred and fifty years, these spectacular displays of art—dominated by what has become a famously crowded and collage-like arrangement of pictures across the Academy’s walls—have provided thousands of artists with a crucial form of competition, inspiration, and publicity, and captured the interest of millions of visitors.
As well as expressing the Academy’s own ambitions and achievements, these exhibitions have played a central role within London’s and the nation’s art world. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they provided the main forum within which Britain’s artists could showcase their individual practice and compete with their rivals for popular and critical acclaim. Today, even as they continue to feature the works of many distinguished painters and sculptors, they are just as famous for providing hitherto unknown, sometimes amateur practitioners with the opportunity of seeing their creations hanging alongside the works of their more celebrated peers. These exhibitions thus offer a unique prism through which to view the history of the Royal Academy itself, and of modern British painting and sculpture more generally.
Our exhibition, which has the working title, The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibitions, 1769–2017, is intended to tell the story of these displays, and in doing so to provide an innovative, illuminating, and visually stunning means of commemorating the Academy’s first 250 years. . .
The exhibition, which is due to open in June 2018, and which will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue and an online chronicle (for which, see Jessica Feather’s Spotlight feature following this article), will occupy a run of ten gallery rooms at the Royal Academy. Furthermore, visitors to the display will have the opportunity of moving directly from The Great Spectacle into the 2018 Summer Exhibition itself, thereby bringing the story full circle.
The full article is available here»