Anna McNay

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2023 walk through with David Remfry


Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

13 June – 20 August 2023

Interview and Walk-Through with David Remfry

At 80 years old, David Remfry was just coming to terms with the opportunity to co-ordinate the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition having passed him by. Then he got a phone call from the President …

When David Remfry was offered three days to think about whether he wanted to accept the offer to co-ordinate this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, he told Rebecca Salter (the current President of the Royal Academy) this was unnecessary as he would absolutely love to. And now, as the annual extravaganza is nearing its close, he is no less enthusiastic. He describes his choice of selection committee and curators as “most harmonious”, noting that it was unprecedented for there to be no arguments during the hang – some to-ing and fro-ing, and a bit of “people nick[ing] pictures from other people”, yes, but all in good spirit.

Everything about the 254th open-submission fixture is, in fact, “harmonious”, from the process of selection – Remfry emphasises how inclusive and all-embracing he wanted it to be – to the choice of wall colours, which he deliberately kept muted, unlike in recent years.

With more than 16,500 applications, Remfry calculated that to give every entry a minute’s consideration during the selection process, it would require 37 hours in total, which is simply not possible. Instead, each work receives but a few seconds. He firmly believes there are no barriers to inclusion, however, and his top tips to anyone wishing to try their luck: (1) Do not choose ornate frames; (2) Do not choose excessively wide borders; and (3) Make your photographs really good.

While one room, curated by Remfry, is a memorial to Academicians who have died this past year – including Paula Rego, Fred Cuming, Ken Howard and Tom Phillips –, the inclusion of three paintings each by centenarian Academicians Tony Eyton (100) and Diana Armfield (103) suggest, Remfry says with a laugh, that painting is good for you. There are humorous threads running through the selection, as well, including, for example, a number of toilet-related works in Clare Woods’ room of still lifes.

Remfry takes Studio International on a walk-through of the exhibition, pointing out some of his many favourite works and elucidating the behind-the-scenes process on the way.


Watch the full walk-through here