It may have been a staple of the London summer season for nearly 250 years but the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition never fails to innovate, excite and explore. This year is no exception; we asked its coordinator, the painter and printmaker Eileen Cooper, to share some of her personal highlights...
1. This year is not all about paint on canvas
Despite being painter by trade, Cooper doesn't want to confine the exhibition to one medium. "One of my overall ambitions was to make the summer show diverse in terms of practice", she says. "Even within painting, styles vary from lyrical romantic figuration to observation from life and this year we also have print making, drawing and digital film: a whole range of exciting stuff."
2. A six-metre tall sculpture by Yinka Shonibare
The annual courtyard sculpture is the first thing that visitors see so it has to make an impact. At six metres tall, Shonibare's Wind Sculture VI should do just that. Returning to his use of Dutch wax textiles, the three-dimensional piece of fabric appears to be blowing in the breeze. The "wonderful" piece of work, is "exploring the notion of harnessing motion and freezing it in a moment of time" says Cooper.
3. Bold canvases from Sean Scully
Cooper says she is "especially excited" to exhibit the abstract oils of this twice Turner Prize nominated artist. Other Royal Academicians featuring in the show are Gilbert & George, who will be showing a new large-scale work from their 'Beard Speak' series, along with Phyllida Barlow, Antony Gormley, Bob and Roberta Smith and Wolfgang Tillmans.
4. Performance art for the first time in 249 years
Cooper reveals there will be some performance art – a first for the show. "On Friday nights there will be performances by two or three young artists and that's going to be amazing", she reveals. "They'll be performing very intimate one-to-one spoken word pieces to individuals and small groups." There will also be two people "strapped into a sort of frame work" and when they meet "they will tip and kiss".
5. Artists from all over the world
The art world is naturally outward looking in its approach to new experiences and inspirations but, with Brexit in the forefront of everyone's minds, Cooper says building bridges is important this year than ever before. "I don't want to focus on personal politics but we have deliberately looked further afield from the home nations", says the artist. "This year we have an exhibition that's very rich in terms of geography we've tried to open our doors to the world. There are artists from all over including Chile, Congo, India and Kurdistan."
6. New films by Isaac Julien
The filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien is showing at the exhibition this year, much to Eileen Cooper's delight. He is known for bringing together different mediums including dance, music, theatre, photography painting and sculpture to create a particularly powerful narrative.
7. A colourful show
The exhibition is always bursting with colour and not just from the hanging art. Last year the gallery walls were daubed in burnt orange and in 2015 the theme was bubblegum pink and electric blue. This year, according to Cooper, the pictures will be set against Moroccan red, yellow ochre and sunshine gold. We can't wait.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens on 13 June to 20 August. Book tickets here.
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