Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy of Arts is a venerated art institution based in the fine old Burlington House in Piccadilly, London. Its role is to encourage British art, and it does this by showing exhibitions, running an art school and by holding all sorts of events and lectures for its members – though these people do tend towards the conservative end of the art spectrum.

The Royal Academy was formed in 1768, under the patronage of George III. Its first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds, a dull academic painter but a critic of note, most famous for his championing of the then cheeky upstart JMW Turner – who blossomed under the Academy’s tutelage, as did William Blake.

Despite its name, the Royal Academy is not a state funded organistation. Still, its temporary exhibitions are as good as anything in the larger London Museums, drawing very big names. There’s a small permanent collection too.

But the Royal Academy really comes into its own with the famous Summer Exhibition, held from May to August, the largest open contemporary art exhibition in the world. Anyone can enter, and the diverse work on display is by a mix of established and unknown living artists; exhibits go from laughably terrible to brilliant, with much debate about which category any one work would fit in. In the past this juried exhibition has acted as a launching pad for numerous prominent artists. It’s one of the few times when the general public shows much interest in contemporary art.

The Summer exhibition is not as fashionable as was the case in earlier centuries, and has been largely ignored by the trendy YBAs (Young Brit Artists); however Tracey Emin exhibited in the 2005 show and accepted an invitation to become a Academician. She defended her decision by saying: "It doesn't mean that I have become more conformist; it means that the Royal Academy of Arts has become more open, which is healthy and brilliant."

10am-6pm every day except Friday (last admission to galleries 5.30pm)
10am-10pm Friday (last admission to galleries 9.30pm)
Nearest tube stations: Piccadilly Circus and Green Park
Bus numbers 8, 9, 14, 19, 22 and 38

Ticket prices vary, but expect to pay around 10 pounds with a small discount for students, the unwaged and the elderly.

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD