This year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition feels more than ever like a series of shows within a show. This is a good thing. Just as your appetite, say, for the hot-hued and textured (as in the Hughie O’Donoghue-curated Gallery IV of paintings and sculptures by the likes of Frank Bowling and Phyllida Barlow) starts to wane, you can wander off to the cooler climes of Cornelia Parker’s black-and-white themed gallery, given over to the likes of David Shrigley, Martin Creed, Mona Hatoum and Gillian Wearing in monochrome (though not polite, thankfully) mode. When poring over architectural models – including Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘Garden Bridge’ for the Thames – gives you back and eye strain, you can take in the epic sweep of an Anselm Kiefer, Sean Scully or Christopher LeBrun canvas over in Gallery III. And when looking at numbered artworks and finding the corresponding names in the little book takes its toll there’s always James Turrell’s ‘Sensing Thought’ light installation to soothe your frazzled mind. Turrell likes to think of it as a work that lets you ‘see yourself see’, but here it works more as a kind of visual sorbet.
Pushed to the fore this year is work by recently elected Academicians – including sculptor Conrad Shawcross and painters Chantal Joffe and Marlene Dumas. Only Wolfgang Tillmans seems to have supplied a major work, a vast red abstract which, for added impact, is visible through the doorway to Parker’s monochrome gallery.
The exhibition feels stripped back. Even so, there are still more than 1,200 works to take in. We’ve selected our favourites (see our Top 10 list here), including Cathie Pilkington’s unnerving mannequins and Creed’s potty-mouthed neon. Those that stick in the mind really earn their place there. But, then, each circuit of the galleries is likely to throw up new favourites – and, reassuringly, a few guilty pleasures.