Museum Guide: Royal Academy's First Ever Winter Show! 🌧

On a rainy London afternoon, with my lightweight umbrella forsaken in the bottom of some canvas tote, I rushed for my 16:20 slot at The Royal Academy in Piccadilly. It seems people have been making art still and I thought I should check it out.

Imagine that World Wars I & II were not effective in even postponing Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. A cultural landmark and an annual delight for art aficionados worldwide since 1769. And yet that b**** Covid was. 

The RA opened its doors to the public for its RA Summer Winter Exhibition earlier this week, welcoming friends (buyers before them) and new lovers back into its freshly painted walls. 

"For the first time in history, the Summer Exhibition will fall in winter. But at the RA, summer is a state of mind, not a time of year. Discover a myriad of works by household names and emerging artists inside our joyous festival of art." —


Besides the fact that everyone including Sir Joshua Reynolds was wearing a mask and the awkward manoeuvering happening between sculptures and video art installations in an attempt to maintain social distancing, I felt equally excited to walk into the Exhibition as I did my first time, last year. There was this sense of uneasiness, people not being sure whether they were behaving as they should. You could slice the tension in the air with a knife. 

In all its aesthetic awkwardness, "Air Kid (Girl) by Yinka Shonibare, which stood in endless motion in the first gallery, couldn't crystallise the signs of our times better. Going against all odds, artists have all submitted works from around the world in a house party hosted by the RA.

Interestingly, I thought to myself, an exhibition like this one, in a sense, has always been the result of another type of lockdown. The creative one. Artists are usually people who maintain "social distancing" regardless of epidemics, submerged in the creative processes that define them. A collective exhibition of this magnitude is like the vaccine to that seclusion. They have to face the world and each other on congested walls that paint a picture much larger than just their own. Their voice becomes a chord in an orchestra that sings the soundtrack of the year. 

And although many would claim "Rain on Me" by Lady Gaga and Arianna Grande is that song, I sensed a bit less optimism coming from the works displayed. A mix of politics, a desire to acknowledge the situation or completely ignore it as if in denial. A sense of disorder, as if everything happened through Zoom and a mystic sense of calm, like the one provoked by "Meditation: Canoe Lake, 1917" by Paul Walde.

The dominant presence of portraits, a stark reminder of how important it suddenly became to connect with those around us. Of how we managed, in our tiny social bubbles, to go places and see "landscapes" through the eyes of the people we hold dear. 

Compared to last year, it surely didn't feel the same, and how could it. If you are not being pushed or stepped on in London, it doesn't feel right. Being able to take pictures in a gallery with zero people in the frame sounds post-apocalyptic even. 

The exhibition at best mirrored the rainbow of emotions washing down on us every day since this whole funfair started, and in that sense it has fulfilled its purpose. But do no expect actual rainbows. 

Till next time.