Last year I visited the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It was
the first time in about three years. I left feeling that most of the
work on show was about as exciting as afternoon tea at my elderly
aunt’s, and remembered why it had taken three years to revisit.
I had also spent a considerable time wandering through the Sensation
exhibition last year and while most of the work was, as it suggests
complete sensationalism, it was enough to make me believe that the Royal
Academy had tried to communicate with an audience outside the stuffy,
aged art cognoscenti. It actually felt active and energised. While
Sensation was a quick-fix solution to financial problems, it was
enormously successful, placing the Academy in a new light.
The question now, however, is can the Royal Academy sustain this modern
and relevant approach to its art and encourage a younger audience?
The Royal Academy has an incredible location in the heart of Piccadilly
and a product that an increasingly sophisticated population is becoming
more interested in. Surely modernising this great institution is the
only way to go?
The biggest problem the Summer Exhibition generally faces is its
To a younger audience art is still seen as the remit of the wealthy and
If the Royal Academy is really serious in pursuing a younger audience
then it should take a marketing tip from some of the top international
fashion designers for its Summer Exhibition.
Create hype and awareness with your ’sensational’ pieces, but make it
attainable, while still aspirational. For instance, many of Armani’s
products can only be afforded by a tiny percentage of the population,
but most people can afford the branded T-shirts which gives them a piece
of a world they normally only aspire to.
There should be art within the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition that is
modern, contemporary and affordable. Take the launch of the Art
Supermarket at Harvey Nichols where customers could purchase modern
European art from pounds 90 to pounds 300. It worked well and it truly
touched chords with an audience who might never have been exposed to
With the Summer Exhibition the Royal Academy has a major opportunity to
kick the snobbery out of art. Let’s hope its stab at modernity doesn’t
stop at the Sensation exhibition and that we see some more new academics
showing this year - although with a menu of Chagall, Picasso and Monet
ahead, it looks more like a case of what sensation?