Until a very recent trip to London, I didn't even know the Royal Academy of Arts existed. The only reason why I went is because I was meeting my boyfriend's dad for the first time and this is where he works as the head of security. Not wanting to do anything too formal, his dad met us at the Academy and gave us a private (and free) personal tour.
The Royal Academy of Arts is one of the few galleries or museums in London that do not have free entrance. Fees vary depending on what exhibition is on but as I said, I was lucky enough to not have to pay anything. At the minute, the exhibition on at the Royal Academy of Arts is the Summer Exhibition which costs £10. If you are a 'friend' of the RA then admission is always free. This can be achieved by paying a one off fee (price depends on age, how many memberships you want etc.) and this will always gain you free entry. If you live in London and want to visit a lot then it is definitely worthwhile.
The Royal Academy of Arts was first founded in 1768 by George III along with 34 other founding members which were made up of artists and architects who wanted a place to feature British art. Their plan was also to establish a school for the arts which is still running today. It takes a hell of a lot to be accepted into the school of the RA and very few students are accepted each year.
One of the RA's most famous exhibitions is the Summer Exhibition which runs from June until August each year. The very first Summer Exhibition was in 1768, the year the RA opened which means this year sees the 244th year of this event. If you don't know what this is, just like I didn't then I shall explain. The Summer Exhibition is the world's largest open submission contemporary art show. Submissions are entered by members of the RA, famous artists and artists who are just starting out. Each painting or sculpture is for sale in the Summer Exhibition and they are all numbered so you can check out prices and how many are for sale in the little book of information you get at the front desk.
I loved looking around this collection of very diverse art. It was so nice to have John's dad explain exactly what the exhibition about and to point out some of the more famous artist's work. It was so surprising to see how much some of the different pieces varied in price especially considering how small some of them were. However, this isn't an event where everything is overpriced. A lot of the pieces were extremely affordable and I would have loved a couple for myself if I actually had any money. I do know though that if I ever want to buy some art, I would save up and head to this event to get something really special.
Although my experience of the RA was a bit different to the one that most people will get, I loved every minute of it. I was so thankful to John's dad for introducing me to a part of London I would have never gone to otherwise. I'm lucky enough to not have to pay entrance fees but even if this weren't the case, I think the RA is worth paying to see.
The Royal Academy does have a permanent collection, mainly of important works of British art - Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hockney etc - as well as the only sculpture by Michelangelo in the country, the Taddei Tondo. It's open to the public free of charge.
The Royal Academy is located in a stunning building in a courtyard off Piccadilly which is a right in the heart of London.
The courtyard is often used as a space for art and currently houses a sculpture by Anish Kapoor whose exhibition is currently showing.
The building is beautiful with big sweeping staircases and a very elegant facade.
Inside the exhibitions spaces are generously sized and can house large works (like the aforementioned Kapoor). There is no permanent collection and so there is a regular programme of temporary exhibitions. These can be of modern, living artists or of older artists (Modigliani & Monet have both been featured here).
The RA also houses the famous Summer Exhibition which is a selling exhibition open to any artist. They regularly get thousands of submissions, the works are reviewed by academicians - but only with a fleeting glance and those lucky enough to be chosen are then considered by the hanging curator who has to try and fit all the works in. Sadly some miss out here as they are simply too large or just don't fit in at all.
My problems with the RA is that the charges can be high (around £12) and sometimes the exhibitions aren't big enough to warrant this. They are also very popular which means the rooms can be very crowded.
However they do have some truly excellent exhibitions with beautiful and stunning works of art. Often pieces that you are unable to see in the UK.
For the general visitor, the Royal Academy of Arts on Picadilly is basically a paying exhibitions space with a rotating programme. The RA doesn't have a collection to care for and display like the National Gallery but accordingly has a freer and more entrepreneurial approach to making art exhibitions as it is not accountable to government. Basically they commission and buy in international art shows which can range from the art of the Aztecs and the art of Tibet to Byzantine art and blockbuster names like Monet.
They need to put on crowd-pleasing shows as they are not funded by government and need to revenue but the exhibitions are always well researched and there is no sham content going on here. The catalogues are seminal books on a subject, picture-rich and full of top academic research.
The two exhibition spaces include the main rooms on the first floor which carry the big name shows and the more intimate space on the top floor which can be more experimental bringing lesser known artists or schools of art to audiences. Also on show are permanent galleries containing works by Royal Academicians, such as Philip King, and these can be visited free of charge.
The RA shops (the permanent shop and the temporary one for special exhibitions) and cafe/restaurant operations are slick if over-crowded during busy shows. The foyer space is cramped ie not much seating if you're planning to meet someone but there is a cloak room so you can at least dump your bag and coat. Do note the building can be very stifling in summer.
There is always something of merit to see at the RA and its central location in London makes it ideal for discerning visitors.