• 12 May to 17 June 2016
  • Deadline 12:00 am
  • Conference date: 29-30th September 2016
  • Paul Mellon Centre

2018 will see the opening of a major exhibition devoted to the history of the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition. Provisionally entitled The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibitions, 1769 – 2018, this display is planned to take place in what will be the Academy’s newly expanded and interconnected premises in Burlington House and Gardens. Forming part of the Academy’s 250th Anniversary celebrations, the exhibition will be curated by Mark Hallett and Sarah Turner of the Paul Mellon Centre, with the assistance of the Academy’s Per Rumberg and the PMC’s Jessica Feather.

Alongside the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, the PMC members of the team are planning to develop an extensive, multi-authored online chronicle of the RA Summer Exhibition’s histories. This will take the form of a series of 250 short, illustrated texts – of around 1000 words each – that will focus on every individual exhibition in turn, beginning with the first such display, held in 1769. Featuring a wide range of scholarly and critical voices telling a multitude of stories about the exhibition, the chronicle will be developed in tandem with an ambitious digitisation programme that will place historic and contemporary summer exhibition catalogues online. This innovative project is designed to offer scholars, students and exhibition-visitors an intellectually lively online resource for research and learning, long after the exhibition itself closes. Whilst focusing on the Academy’s summer exhibitions, it will also contribute to the growing field of study on exhibition histories more broadly. As the longest running exhibition of contemporary art in the world, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition offers an extremely rich focus for this area of research.

In advance of the 2018 Great Spectacle exhibition, the Paul Mellon Centre is organising and hosting a two-day event that is designed to highlight and develop new perspectives on the Academy’s display. The conference will take place on 29-30th September 2016.

In the spirit of our planned online chronicle, the conference will be structured around groupings of short papers dealing with individual years in the exhibition’s history. It is designed to be fast-moving, provocative, and surprising, and to feature time both for speedy feedback and extended discussion. We invite proposals for 1000-word papers that, through focusing on an individual year, enable us to think afresh about the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, and that do so from different art-historical perspectives. The premium on such papers will be to deliver pithy, refreshing and original insights into the exhibition: to offer an illuminating art-historical snapshot, alighting on a particular work or artist, or a prominent theme to come out of an individual year.

We are especially keen to showcase new research into the histories of the exhibition, and into its contemporary character, appeal and function. We invite proposals that deal with the different kinds of objects that have been exhibited at the Academy, including sculpture, drawings, prints and architectural models, as well as the paintings that have been the mainstay of the display since its inception. Proposals might focus on the summer exhibition as a venue of artistic competition and collaboration; on its status as an entertaining form of urban spectacle; on the interaction of works of art within its walls; on its fluctuating critical fortunes and its shifting status within the British art world; on the role of women artists within its history; on its position within the London social scene; on the function and impact of its selection and hanging committees; on its engagement with the themes of war, empire and celebrity; on the kinds of art-criticism it has generated; and on a wide range of other topics. We especially welcome applications from junior scholars and researchers, as well as from experienced academics, curators, critics and independent art-historians. Cross-disciplinary, comparative and collaborative studies are also very welcome.

Proposals, of no more than 250 words, together with a short cv, should be submitted to Ella Fleming on [email protected] by Friday 17th June 2016. We will accept up to three proposals from individual applicants, and we would encourage multiple proposals to be on non-sequential years.

Travel and accommodation will be provided for speakers travelling from outside the London area.

Photo credit:

The Main Galleries during the Summer Exhibition, 1956. Unidentified photographer working for Keystone Press Agency Ltd. © Royal Academy of Arts, London