A £350m Banksy Pokes Fun At Brexit In Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition

Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 69 months ago

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A £350m Banksy Pokes Fun At Brexit In Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts 4
Grayson Perry is at the helm - here's one of his works on display. Copyright the artist.

The Royal Academy of Arts turned 250 years this year, and heralded the occasion with a lovely new extension. But it also means it’s the 250th edition of the Summer Exhibition. The long running exhibition is an art overdose of over 1,000 artworks that are sold to help fund the Royal Academy Schools.

Keeping an exhibition fresh when it’s older than the United States of America is quite the challenge. This year it falls to artist, political commentator and playful personality Grayson Perry to curate it.

£350m Banksy anyone?

Thankfully his mischievous presence has been let loose throughout the show to lighten it up from the stuffy affair it can be. This is typified by a Vote Leave poster that was transformed by Banksy to read 'Love'. It's the priciest work here, at a cheeky £350m — we’re hoping the proceeds go to the NHS. Sticking with the political theme, there are portraits of Kim Jong Un, Margaret Thatcher and a staged photograph of a Trump impersonator having sex with Miss Mexico in a recreation of the Oval Office.

Perry seems to have had lots of fun pulling this together and while most works have been selected on merit, a few have been snuck in just as a thumb to the eye of the art establishment — the irony not being lost that the Royal Academy is about as establishment as it gets.

The architecture room is full of fantastic models including this one of Westminster Abbey.

Many visitors will enjoy spotting the works by Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry himself, the beauty being they will hang next to work by artists most visitors have never heard of. It's hard to review the Summer Exhibition as it's not meant to be a coherent journey through a show — the only aim is to show visitors more art than they can handle, and hope some buy the works.

This year’s show has also taken over the Sackler galleries so there's even more space for the art to spread out, allowing for a double bonus of more works and more space for us to appreciate each one — not that we could give each work the time it deserves, even if we made multiple repeat visits.

More galleries means more space for art.

It’s exhausting work trying to take it all in, but as we stumble out suffering a touch of what we like to call 'art fatigue', we brace ourselves for another two exhibitions.

Opposite the Summer Exhibition is a show celebrating 250 years of the summer exhibition — a tad confusing and very meta. It's a chance for the Royal Academy of Art to show off its fantastic collection of work, but also to show how art has evolved massively over the last 250 years, and how the Academy has reflected those trends.

A 19th century private view of the Summer Exhibition by William Powell Frith. A Pope Family Trust, courtesy Martin Beisly

History is present in a painting of 19th century private view of the Summer Exhibition itself, where the likes of Lord Leighton and the poet Robert Browning can be seen in attendance. It looks a rather stuffy affair by today's standards, but we're sure it was the place to be seen, much like it is today.

It’s a gallop through history as the fabulous landscapes of Turner, Constable and Gainsborough make for the pre-Raphaelites before transitioning through to modern day artists including a searing David Hockney landscape.

It gets experimental down in the RA schools show.

Art may change in taste and the Summer Exhibition has tracked its evolution. It’s a tad self indulgent and we do think it cheeky that admission isn’t included in the ticket price for the summer show — though we guess someone has to pay for that lovely new refurbishment.

No time to sit down just yet as the final leg in the trio of exhibitions is down in the schools, where the graduating artists show off their work. As we’d expect with student art, it’s experimental and, for us, a show of hits and misses — as all graduate shows tend to be. In all honesty, we're not entirely sure how much we did take in and we definitely recommend visitors don't take on all three exhibitions in one go as we've done.

Only one of these people is an artwork.

There’s more art here than anyone could reasonably ask for and we feel like we’ve overdosed on it. It ranges from great to poor, but ultimately art is subjective and the aim of the Summer Exhibition is to ensure there's something for everyone's taste. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to lie down with a wet towel over our foreheads.

250th Summer Exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts. 12 June-19 August, £18.
The Great Spectacle: 250 years of the Summer Exhibition. 12 June-19 August, £16.
RA Schools Show 2018. 8 June-1 July, free.

Last Updated 06 June 2018