“The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition” at the Royal Academy in London
“The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition” at the Royal Academy in London

“The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition” at the Royal Academy in London

William Powell Frith’s A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881.Source: The Royal Academy of Arts

June 12–Aug. 19

Every summer for the past two and a half centuries, London’s Royal Academy of Art has put on a rambling, blockbuster show that highlights work by British artists. Historically there was so much art crowded onto the academy’s walls that it transcended a “salon-style” exhibition and came to resemble something closer to wallpaper.  To mark the 250-year anniversary of the Summer Exhibition, the RA has created a retrospective that marks the exhibition’s highlights, both historical and contemporary—the show promises to run the gamut from Joshua Reynolds to Wolfgang Tillmans.

he Great Spectacle tells the story of 250 years of the Summer Exhibition, the world’s longest running annual display of contemporary art.

Every summer for the past two and a half centuries, we’ve filled our galleries with artworks submitted by artists from across the country. As the world has changed dramatically, so too has the art that makes it onto the walls of the RA each year to form the famously crowded and collage-like arrangement of pictures that dominates each exhibition.

During its long lifetime, paintings, sculpture, drawings and architectural designs by household names such as John Constable, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Auguste Rodin, John Singer Sargent, Laura Knight, Zaha Hadid, Peter Blake and Tracey Emin have been displayed alongside work by first-time exhibitors, creating the distinctive visual character that draws thousands of visitors to the Summer Exhibition each year.

Staged to coincide with the Summer Exhibition of 2018, The Great Spectacle revisits important moments in the history of the Academy and its annual show: from its inception as a showcase for grand society portraits and epic history scenes, via its role in the fight for women’s suffrage and the impact of two World Wars, to its ongoing status as a platform for both established and unknown contemporary artists.

Take a fascinating, ever changing journey through 250 years of art.