Curating artists of the future: the A-level Summer Exhibition Online

Published 18 June 2015

Each year the RA’s Learning team puts together an online exhibition of outstanding work by A-level students. Ann Gilmore explains how this year’s show came together.

  • The A-level Summer Exhibition Online, now in its ninth year, continues to receive record numbers of submissions from young and emerging artists aged 16 to 18 and still in education. It offers a unique opportunity for these young people to submit images of what they consider to be their best artwork, which is then judged and curated by an expert panel.

    Every year, we wait for the torrent of online submissions, which (inevitably perhaps) always arrive within 72 hours of the deadline at the end of April. This year we received submissions ranging in medium from painting, sculpture, installation, photography and printmaking to digital projects, video and animation. Each artist is asked to describe their work, offering an insight into their inspirations, influences and ideas.

    The selection process is two-stage. First, three final-year post-graduate RA Schools students create a shortlist of the work for a second panel of curators, who then finalise the exhibition. This panel represents the main elements of the Royal Academy: the Royal Academicians, RA Exhibitions and the RA Schools. The selected works are then curated into virtual galleries or ‘zones’, and a title is chosen for the exhibition.

  • Curators at work: from left, Lisa Milroy RA, Maria de Lima, Andrea Tarsia

    Curators at work: from left, Lisa Milroy RA, Maria de Lima, Andrea Tarsia

  • We received over 2,000 submissions from state and independent schools and sixth form colleges from across the entire UK. The formidable task of shortlisting fell this year to RA Schools students Josie Cockram, Caroline Abbotts and Declan Jenkins. They were particularly interested in artwork that they felt was investigating current political and social issues, and trying to understand the language of contemporary art. Josie commented that the submissions showed “a real range of work and in some cases, a professional polish”.

    The final selection was curated by Lisa Milroy RA, Andrea Tarsia (Head of RA Exhibitions) and RA Schools student Maria de Lima. “We felt we were looking at really great art”, Lisa Milroy said. Every image triggered discussion about technique, concept, impact, gesture, the direction of A-level art and the importance of developing an awareness of artistic approach to produce an image.

    I’m continuously surprised, encouraged and delighted by the submissions; it’s great to see trends appear that are not tied to the UK art curriculum. This year we saw a growing exploration of sexuality and gender, whereas in previous years the issue of body image seemed to prevail. Multi-generational family and friendship themes continue to permeate the submissions. A sense of humour still exists in much of the art and this delighted the curators. Digital technology continues to feature prominently, but we also saw a renewed interest in using oil as a medium and more sculpture and installation work being entered.

  • This year, the curators decided not to exhibit a shortlist, but rather celebrate the final 38 artworks that were chosen for the 2015 exhibition, Beings of the World, Unite! The curators chose the title from one of the artworks, as it immediately popped out as a very grand (but highly unlikely) call to action. It was bold and unflinching. Coming up with titles for the galleries wasn’t of interest to the curators - they wanted the works to speak for themselves. Instead, they grouped the works into numbered ‘zones’.

    “We would like to say a huge thank you to the hundreds of students who submitted work to the exhibition this year,” said Lisa. Andrea added, “To put your work up for scrutiny is always a daunting moment, but we wanted to encourage everyone who took the plunge to keep working.”

  • The work was a vital expression of imagination, skill and talent

    Lisa Milroy RA

  • A big thank you also to the many art teachers who promoted the project to their students. We hope that the A-level Summer Exhibition Online continues to be, as Maria puts it, “a platform that spurs artistic discussion and experimentation in and outside of classrooms”. As Andrea said, “On the evidence submitted here, exploration is alive and kicking in the minds of students and their teachers. Keep it up!”

    Visit the A-level Summer Exhibition Online 2015

    Find out more about how to enter next year’s A-level Summer Exhibition Online here.

    Ann Gilmore is the Programmer for Young People and Teachers in the RA’s Learning Department

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