The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, for a Summer Exhibition first-timer such as myself, is a bewildering experience. Now in it’s 245th year, it is steeped in history and an institutional event I really should have attended before. But how are you meant to go about digesting the chocka-block walls of artwork, the rooms filled with sculptures and models and paintings? How, in fact, do you negotiate the hoards of visitors each peering precisely where you want to peer?
I recommend attending with a friend, particularly an artsy and knowledgable one, with whom you have double the chance of recognising the famous paintings and double the body space to barge, nicely, into spaces. The little guide book that lists all 1264 of the works is essential if you want to leave thinking that you have any chance of remembering anything you have seen. Write notes, scribble, circle and star, so then at least you can look up all the artists later. I’d say take some sneaky photos on your phone, but that’s definitely not allowed and the stewards will get very politely cross.
The highlights, this year have got to be twofold: the impressive installation piece by El Anatsu covering the facade of Burlington House and Vanity of Small Differences, the class satire tapestries by Grayson Perry. You can go and see wall hanging just outside in the court yard, for free. Of course, the recycling of materials in art is a trope that has been regurgitated about as many times as we would probably need to recycle plastic to be anything like sustainable. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive spectacle.