ART INSTALLATION: Preview The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

06/26/2010 12:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In what is the largest open contemporary art show in the world, the walls of the Royal Academy are crammed with 1,200 new works from unknowns to the likes of Michael Craig-Martin, Ed Ruscha and Gillian Ayers for this year's annual Summer Exhibition. A series of gloriously eccentric rituals take place before the opening night; 120-odd RA members gather to drink beef tea while sifting through thousands of hopeful entrants for the exhibition, and this is followed by a communal 'varnishing day'. The party is a hot ticket because guests get a chance to snap up works before the official Buyers Day -- which explains why, before the party's hardly started, there is a sea of red stickers in the Weston Rooms, where pieces by lesser known names with 100 pounds starting price are crammed on the walls.

This year, Fiona Rae RA was invited to curate the 'special room' within the gallery. She chose artists 'who conjure up fantasy worlds or fictional spaces, with a strong sense of the abstract' - among them Gary Webb, Martin Maloney, Richard Patterson and George Condo (whose piece the Butcher the Maid and the Master of the House was rumoured to have been bought by Alexa Chung). The RA is entirely self-funded, so all the proceeds from the show go to the gallery's school and exhibitions programme.

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