Thursday, January 09, 2020

TIPS for entries to the 2020 RA Summer Exhibition

This is a longer Guide to the Call for Entries for the 2020 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I gave a brief summary of what you need to do in RA Summer Exhibition 2020: Call for Entries (SHORT version)

I used to do a detailed long guide to how to enter but I'm not convinced people read it. (If you want to read last year's take a look at my detailed guide last year (but ignore the 12,000 entries bit- they dropped that without telling anybody!)

This post covers background advice and tips relating:
  • The Largest Open Exhibition
  • Observations on the Selection and Hanging Committee
  • TIPS for Submission
  • Photography Matters
  • Pricing and Selling 
The VERY Overcrowded Entrance to the Exhibition
left me wondering whether the Health and Safety People has been asked to comment.....

The Largest Open Exhibition

This is the largest open exhibition in the world. A huge number of artworks get hung or displayed in the exhibition.

Consequently the curation is critical to the success of the exhibition.  I confess I really notice the difference each year based on who curated it and who was on the Selection and Hanging Committee. The exhibitions oscillate between marvellous and boring - with quite a lot of tedium and rather too few gems.

Last year was just weird. It felt like the least curated exhibition ever. In the end I was so bored by last year's exhibition that I walked out before the end, did not go back and did not write a blog post about it. I do however have a stack of photos - but I keep reminding myself I only photographed what I liked and not the complete mishmash inbetween.

On the other hand the RA reckons they had their best ever sales last year. I'd like to know whether that best ever relates to number of sales or value of sales. Whichever I suspect a vast number of sales are accounted for by the fine art prints which are often very affordable and popular artworks have many red dots!

See more about Pricing and Selling below.

Sarah Rogers - Sleeping Mouse (not 2019)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all Printmakers

I very much recommend this exhibition to all those people who are skilled fine art printmakers - particularly those who work in series and sell at affordable prices (under £1,000). 

There are a lot of people who visit and try to buy an artwork from the Summer Exhibition and they invariably, for budget reasons, choose a print.

Take a look at the prints which were exhibited last year - and also take a look at their pricing and don't get silly. Overpriced prints do not sell whereas reasonably priced ones just walk off the walls. I always do a calculation every year in relation to some of the prints of what the value of the print has been in terms of the sales achieved.

For example, the one below - on the day I visited - had netted gross sales (of the framed print @ £560 on display and other unframed original prints @ £450) of £11,380 - and bear in mind it's one of a series of four with different views of London. People do like to collect....

Richmond Park - etching by Mychael Barrett (part of a series)
One of my favourite prints in 2019

I sometimes wonder why the RA don't do a separate shorter exhibition just for the fine art printmakers - but based on the same principles as the Summer Exhibition.  They would sell enormous numbers of prints if they did.

Selection and Hanging Committee 2020: Observations

A very odd hang! (in 2019)
Big paintings which can read well at a distance are at the bottom not the top of the wall
- plus serried ranks were a turnoff!

The Exhibition this year is coordinated by artists Jane and Louise WilsonWhat's very unusual is
  • they were only elected (as an RA Printmaker) to the RA in March 2018. 
  • they are not just siblings - they're twins! 
  • Their Preferred media is Film making, Photography, and Printmaking
They were born in Newcastle on Tyne in 1967, graduated in 1989 but have lived and worked in London since.
Since 1990, they have gained a national and international reputation as artists working with photography and the moving image, installation in an expanded form of cinema and lens-based media. Their early works centred on abandoned buildings, often imbued with the presence and ideology of the original occupants.

They head up a Selection and Hanging Committee composed of
  • Sir David Adjaye RA OBE - Architect (elected 2017) Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents. Preferred media: Architecture. Responsible for the the $540 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. OBE 2007; Knighted 2017
  • Sonia Boyce RA - Painter (elected 2016) Preferred media: Painting, Printmaking, and Film making. A British Afro-Caribbean artist who lives and works in London. No website
  • Eileen Cooper RA OBE - Printmaker (elected 2001) Preferred media: Painting and Printmaking. Originally from the Peak District. Former Keeper of the RA. Co-ordinated 2017 Summer Exhibition.
  • Richard Deacon RA, CBE - Sculptor (elected 1998) Born in Wales and lives and works in London. Preferred media: Sculpture 
  • Stephen Farthing RA - Painter (Elected 1998) Lives and works in New York, USA. Preferred media: Painting
  • Isaac Julien RA CBE - Painter (elected 2017) a Turner prize-nominated artist and filmmaker. Preferred media: Film making and Photography 
  • Rebecca Salter PRA - Printmaker (elected 2014). A British abstract artist. Preferred media: Printmaking, Woodblock prints, Wood engraving, and Painting In 2017 she was elected Keeper and in December 2019 she was elected President of the RA.
So basically - that's rather a lot of people interested in film. 

It seems likely that this year's exhibition might well have a lot of visual / digital media in terms of film-making, video and photography - simply because of the composition of the Committee.

It strikes me that it's about time that the Royal Academy changed its categories to recognise the number of photographers and film-makers it's electing to membership.
  • At present they're treating the Painting category as if it was another word for "Visual Arts". 
  • Including filmmakers who might do the odd painting in the Painter category effectively reduces the number of painters!
This year's committee addresses diversity better in terms of ethnicity by having three black members all elected in 2017 - which also makes this a very 'new' panel (in terms of recent elections) compared to previous years

The other thing which the RA would do well to ponder on is diversity - in terms of geography - within the UK. It's looking a VERY cosmopolitan London-oriented Panel of Judges to me..... I think the politicians have learned the lesson about the perils of ignoring the regions. Maybe the RAs need to do so too?

I liked this corner - the artwork was not fighting with its neighbours!
But somebody could have found a better place for the fire extinguishers!

Tips for submission

BIG TIP - Just in case you don't spot these in the side column these are the links to the KEY IMFORMATION you need to know about

Another favourite corner - in the Print Gallery

Here's a brief summary of some of my important tips.
  • Your work has to be ORIGINAL i.e. you can assert copyright - because you haven't copied anybody else's original work (which would be a derivative which cannot assert copyright)
  • Submission is DIGITAL ONLY
    • You cannot submit work by post. 
    • You can get a friend to help you do this if you're not very savvy about digital matters
  • The ENTRY FORMS are not transferable 
    • So you can't "ask a friend" for a form - nor can you sell one to another artist.
  • TRANSPORTATION is not organised by the Royal Academy
    • Expenses of submission are the responsibility of the artist. 
    • It's never too early to start thinking about how you'll get it to London and what it might cost. 
    • Make some enquiries now. It might well influence your pricing decisions! 
    • Who is going to stand in the very long line to deliver the artwork?  Your courier? Why not ask how it works in terms of what they will do and not do - and whether they have delivered to the Summer Exhibition before and unpacked and taken away the materials for repacking?
    • [See the RA's Suggested Transport Agents and my Guide to UK Art Movers & Couriers & Fine Art Transport Services]
    • plus see the next point
  • Work must be UNPACKED before it is submitted
    • Which means when you're thinking about how to get it there - and then back again if 'not selected' or not sold' .......
    • you'll need packing materials for the return journey from somewhere
  • BARCODES are non-transferable and correspond to particular works. No swapping allowed!
  • LABELS & BAR CODES: Don't forget to complete the ID for the artwork - complete both the tie-on and other labels and apply the bar codes properly and make sure they are fixed to the work 
    • NOT job to be done in a rush!  
    • Not something to remember you've forgotten to do just as you are handing over the artwork to the courier!!!


4,000 artworks get through to the second round.
  • However that's 4,000 out of who knows how many. 
  • My guess is at least 15,000 and very probably a lot more.
Your best strategy for getting into the second round is to make sure that the photography of the artwork does not let it down.

In an exhibition which is going to attract the largest number of entries of any open exhibition anywhere in the world, it is so easy for slip-ups on photography to be the reason to not vote for an entry and for to not get through to the next round

ESSENTIAL READING for all those who do not know to photograph your work to the standard required for a digital entry
  • avoid colour reflections on your artwork. Colour reflects and the place you take the photo influences the colours of the artwork - try to make it as neutral as possible.  
  • use a tripod if you have one - it helps eliminate camera shake 
  • make sure the light is balanced and even over the surface of the artwork - you can't adjust for this after you've taken the photo
  • adjust your camera for the light levels - aim for neutral soft light
  • make sure the camera is at right angles to the artwork to eliminate parallax 
  • move yourself and your camera rather than using the zoom

VAT for international artists

Non-established taxable persons (e.g. international artists who do not live in the EU who are importing art for sale in exhibitions in the EU) MUST
  • Register for VAT in the UK - although you can wait until you are shortlisted
  • If you cannot supply a VAT number you will not be able to make it available for sale - which could make it a very expensive round trip.

Looking through the Galleries
Plus a bear

Pricing and Selling

You need to know how the selling works to be able to work out how to price your work.

The guidelines on "how to price" is crying out for some worked examples.
Relevant information is all over the place and varies in transparency - and opacity e.g.
  • many artists might think twice if they see some worked examples
  • in relation to who is responsible for the transport costs of getting the artwork from the RA to the seller.  Transport is not priced and needs to be quantified prior to agreeing a sale - but the buyer should pay.  There's a lot to be said for getting the buyer to commission the transport agent to remove from the RA and deliver

PRICING: for vat

The basics are:
  • NOT REGISTERED FOR VAT: if you do not generate more than £85k p.a. (i.e no need to register for VAT) and/or have not registered for VAT then VAT @ 20% is only charged ON THE COMMISSION 
    • i.e. Sale price = £1,000 for non-VAT artist
    • Commission = 30% = £300
    • VAT on Commission = £300 x 20% = £60
    • TOTAL DEDUCTION = £360
    • Amount due to Artist = £640
  • REGISTERED FOR VAT. VAT is charged on the artwork and the commission.
    • i.e. Sale Price (inclusive of VAT) = £1,000
    • Commission = 30% = £300
    • VAT on Commission = £300 x 20% = £60
    • VAT on Artwork = 20% of £640 = £128
    • Amount due to Artist = £512
  • NOT REGISTERED FOR VAT and selling unframed prints from a limited edition
    • i.e. Sale Price (inclusive of VAT and Postage and packing) = £150
    • Commission = 30% = £45
    • VAT on Commission = £45 x 20% = £9
    • TOTAL DEDUCTION by RA = £54
    • Net inclusive of cost of postage and packing = £96
    • Postage and Packing = £6
    • Amount due to Artist = £90
    • [I'm not going to work out the Registered for VAT version but obviously the sum is reduced again]
All prices stated on the Entry Form should include UK postage and packing for sending unframed prints from the edition to Purchasers
I should point out that the amount due to the artist is not "profit" as this is the sum against which all expenses of making the art and all your overheads (eg entry fee + transporting the work to London - and back again) need to be offset. Not to mention pension and NI contributions and tax etc etc.

This is why selling multiples of fine art prints is probably the most profitable use of your time - so long as you have a child who earns his pocket money by doing a decent job of wrapping up your prints!

SELLING: These are the basics

This is what happens
  • buyer expresses an interest in buying
  • what the RA does
the RA’s role is strictly limited to introducing the Purchaser to You.
    • RA charges them 30% of the price of the work (+ VAT) as a deposit - they have now received what is due to them from the artist.
    • RA informs the artist RA then informs the artist of the offer to purchase 
  • what the artist does
    • Artist MUST conform to what the T&Cs and the Guide to Selling tell you to do
    • if Buyer's notify the RA that they wish to purchase via telephone or online then the Distance Selling Regulations kick in and the artist must observe them eg buyer has a right to cancel within a specific number of days (read more about the Distance Selling Regulations on my Art Business Info website - see eCommerce for Artists)
    • The rest of the sale is then conducted between artist and buyer (IMPORTANT - see below arrangements for collection and transport!)
    • Once you’ve been paid, SEND the signed Removal Order for the artwork to your buyer. That allows them or their agent to collect the artwork from the RA. No removal order = no movement!
    • Unframed fine art prints - you have to deliver to the buyer before the exhibition ends and you have to send them without charging for transport i.e. transport needs to be built into the price
  • buyer arranges to get the artwork from the RA to their home/office/wherever i.e. buyer funds transport costs (unless it is an unframed fine art print - when the artist pays)
    • IMPORTANT NOTE: That last point could be stated a LOT more clearly. The fundamental point is that an artist cannot possibly build transport costs into the price if he/she does not know where it is going.
    • However the sale might be dependent on you getting a quote for transport costs from a reputable carrier so the buyer knows what they are agreeing to pay in total
    • See the RA's Suggested Transport Agents and my Guide to UK Art Movers & Couriers & Fine Art Transport Services
    • It's a good idea if providing quotes for the buyer that you include a statement similar to that used by the RA in the Transport Agents document (see below)
    • It's an even better idea if you get the buyer to make the arrangements for transport. Then if anything happens en route you are very definitely not caught in the middle.
Please Note: The (transport) agencies listed in this document are not connected to the Royal Academy and the Royal Academy accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage caused by such agencies.


    I can't tempt you with any prizes as it's unclear what they are. The website only includes reference to prizes awarded last year. That makes it look rather like somebody has forgotten to do the sponsorship task on the Exhibition "to do" List

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