Behind the scenes of the artistic showcase
What was founded in 1768, has around a million and a quartet visitors every year and originally started life at London’s Foundling Hospital? The Royal Academy of Arts – or RA for short – of course. Many people have described artists as eccentrics or, in some cases, slightly mad, so it could be seen as fitting that it was King George III, who is perhaps now best known for his battles with mental illness, who founded the institution via a personal act. Its motive was twofold: to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expert judgement in the arts, and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence. Almost 150 years on, the world has changed dramatically, and in some ways so has the RA, but those core beliefs and aims are still strong. The first president was the influential portrait painter Joshua Reynolds. He was one of 34 named founder members, although it was thought that eventually, 40 members would be allowed in total. Although many of that initial group are now largely unknown, the organisation the helped to mould continues to go from strength to strength. The RA was housed in Somerset House, which was then a royal palace, then moved to the National Gallery before taking up residence in Burlington House at Piccadilly, where it remains today. Every summer it hosts the biggest art show of the year, and possibly the most important – the wide variety of practitioners (both professional and amateur) and styles on view offer a unique insight into the current artistic trends. Each annual show is curated by a different member of the Royal Academy, with Richard Wilson (the sculptor not the actor) taking charge in 2016. “The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2016 (Saturday, BBC2, 9.10pm) will be unpredictable, stimulating, and enjoyable with 10 startling rooms of contemporary art submitted from around the world. Each of the rooms will be hung by a member of the committee, resulting in themes of free speculation, practice or technique.” During this preview programme, critic Morgan Quaintance and presenter Kirsty Wark follow the fortunes of aspiring artists who are hoping that their work makes it through the tough and traditional selection process.
Getting a sneak preview Kirsty Wark presents