• 9 May 2018

Ahead of the release of the major new digital publication The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 on 30 May 2018, Research Assistant Thomas Powell will be giving a 'behind-the-scenes' look at the Chronicle.

An Introduction to the Chronicle

The word ‘chronicle’ is weighed down with literary and historiographical baggage. When I was asked to write a series of posts about my work with the PMC on The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018, one of the first things I did was to look for other recent publications that used the word ‘chronicle’ in their title. Did you know, for example, that the serial-novelisation of the long running BBC Radio 4 series The Archers is majestically titled The Ambridge Chronicles? My scant research suggests that works are often styled as ‘chronicles’ to emphasise the extreme lengths of time over which their narratives unfold. The Archers may be radio’s longest running soap opera, but the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, at 250 years old, is the longest running annual exhibition of contemporary art in the world and surely deserving of a chronicle of its own.

On 30 May, the PMC will publish The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018, an open-access publication that will provide an in-depth look at this remarkable history. As a research assistant on the project, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in most aspects of the Chronicle’s development. Over the next few weeks I’ll give you a behind the scenes look at what to expect come 30 May.

 Home page of chronicle250.com, designed by Brooklyn-based firm Strick&Williams

Home page of chronicle250.com, designed by Brooklyn-based firm Strick&Williams,

At the heart of the Chronicle are 250 entries that each bring a single year of the Summer Exhibition to life. Many are short scholarly texts—but there are also videos, interviews and virtual reconstructions— variously contributed by academics, critics, curators, Academy staff and even a few artists. I’ve written five texts for the Chronicle looking at how artists engaged with the exhibition across the twentieth century. This has involved going to work with a rich seam of photographic and textual evidence to mine for information. I’ve particularly enjoyed thinking about how this material imagines the Summer Exhibition as a site of social and creative tension. In doing so I’ve looked at the politics of displaying imperial monuments bound for British India, attempts by some artists to win the approval of the Academy, and the use of the exhibition by other as a platform to attack their critics.

These texts will join a wealth of data and digitised exhibitions catalogues to provide a major online resource that will complement and extend the impact of the exhibition co-curated by the PMC’s Mark Hallett and Sarah Victoria Turner, ‘The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibitions 1769-2018’ on show at the Royal Academy between 12 June and 19 August 2018.

About the author

  • Head shot of man

    Thomas Powell - Independent Researcher