250 not out: celebrate with the Royal Academy this year

Royal Academy of Arts

One of London’s most artistically important cultural venues, the Royal Academy of Arts – otherwise known as just the Royal Academy or the ‘RA’ for short – is this year celebrating a highly significant milestone, its 250th anniversary. And to mark the occasion, the acclaimed institution has opened a new, unified and expanded site, enabling it to fulfil its remit as a bastion call for both art and their artists perhaps never better than it’s managed before.

In short, both its main buildings now operate as a complete and comprehensively-sized hub for art and architecture right in the heart of Central London, which means they not only are capable of showing off the venue’s historic collection of extraordinary fine art, but also the work of the establishment’s leading artists (and its 250-year-old art school) and make full use of its new learning centre and lecture theatre.

But what about this year’s big visitor-friendly exhibits? What’s gone down a storm – and what’s yet to come? Well, so far, this special year, the RA’s gained (and shared with the public) unprecedented access to fantastic works from the Royal Collection, the Louvre and the Prado in order to reunite some of the finest treasures from the collection put together by Britain’s ill-fated 17th-Century King Charles I, including knockout masterpieces by Titian, Van Dyck, Rubens, Mantegna, Holbein and Tintoretto.

Come the summer and the RA turned up the volume when it came to its legendary Summer Exhibition (where galleries upon galleries are filled by works from professionals and amateurs of all stripes, so long as they pass the institution’s selection panel), co-ordinated by UK contemporary art superstar Grayson Perry. To accompany this year’s ‘Exhibition’, a special treat was in store in the shape of ‘The Great Spectacle’, which showcased defining works from Summer Exhibitions past.

And now as the year’s passing into autumn, it’s renovated galleries are set to be filled by ‘The Art of Making Buildings’ (15th September 2018-20th January 2019), an exhibit dedicated to demonstrating the brilliance of the buildings of the extraordinarily influential architect Renzo Piano, who’s been responsible for everything from London’s own Shard tower to Paris’s Pompidou Centre.

But that’s far from all. 1768 was an auspicious year for British culture; aside from the foundation of the RA, it was also the year that Captain James Cook set sail on a voyage of discovery to the uncharted seas of the South Pacific, where he encountered a plethora of island civilisations covering almost a third of the world’s surface. To wit, the ‘Oceania’ exhibition will put a long-overdue spotlight on the original and powerful art of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, from ancient treasures to works by leading contemporary artists – quite the reason to visit the RA from any of the hotels on Kings Road London.

Finally, the RA’s milestone of year closes with the marking of one final anniversary – the centenary of the deaths of the two great icons of Austrian Modernism. ‘Klimt/ Schiele’ offers an intimate and tantalising glimpse into these artists’ enigmatic relationship and differing creative processes via their raw and revealing drawings, selected from the world’s greatest collection of their works on paper – Vienna’s Albertina Museum. Due to the fragility of these rare works, many of them will not see the light of day again for many years, making this exhibition all the more unmissable for anyone who’s planning on making the base for their London trip the relatively nearby San Domenico House hotel.