Exhibitions: A GREAT BRITISH INSTITUTION

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The Independent Culture
Age: the first Summer Exhibition was in 1769, a year after the Royal Academy's foundation, and the show has been held annually ever since, even during the wars.

Character: a key fixture in the social calendar, the show's opening feels more like a cocktail party than an exhibition. The sponsor is Guinness, but the ladies in hats are more likely to be sipping Pimm's.

How are the exhibits chosen? Up to 11,000 pictures are submitted every year. To make it into the show, works must get past the Selection Committee and the appropriately named "Hanging" Committee, both made up of Royal Academicians. 1,200 works are chosen (compared to 136 in 1769). This year's show features 699 artists, with a strong contingent of RAs among them.

Alumni? Previous exhibitors include Turner, Gainsborough and Hockney. But there's dignity in rejection. Constable and Stanley Spencer are among those who got turned down.

What's new this year? Summer shows usually commemorate RAs who have recently died. The 1997 show is notable for a different sort of departure: RB Kitaj's. As he returns to the US, Sandra Three is his parting shot against the critics who panned his 1994 retrospective, and whom he blames for his wife's death.

What price fine art? The most expensive work is Kitaj's - a cool pounds 1m. But Juliet Blaxland's jollier Life in a Listed Building costs just pounds 10.

Any dead sharks? No. Hirst and the Britpack are still unrepresented. Small wonder when the youngest person ever to sit on the Selection Committee was 35. It's a long way from Hoxton to Piccadilly.

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