Joe Lycett is a ‘Summer Exhibitionist’

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Saturday: Joe Lycett: Summer Exhibitionist (BBC Two, 8pm)

What was founded in 1768, has around a million and a quarter visitors every year and originally started life at London’s Foundling Hospital?

The Royal Academy of Arts – or RA for short – of course.

The motive behind the academy’s origins was two fold: to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expert judgement in the arts, and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence.

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Joe Lycett holding his piece ‘Chris’ in his studio in BirminghamJoe Lycett holding his piece ‘Chris’ in his studio in Birmingham
Joe Lycett holding his piece ‘Chris’ in his studio in Birmingham

Almost 150 years on, the world has changed dramatically, and in some ways so has the RA, but those core beliefs and aims are still strong.

As a result, every year, it organises its Summer Exhibition, the largest event of its kind in the world – anybody is welcome to submit works, and those that pass the judging process will get to see their efforts within the gallery’s hallowed walls.

In 2018, Turner Prize-winning potter and all-round national treasure Grayson Perry curated the exhibition. Among the items he accepted was a bust entitled ‘Chris’ by Joe Lycett, who claimed it was made with clay and an empty Pringles tin, and was the result of a drunken creative urge. Unsurprisingly, pricing it at £10.5million meant that it didn’t sell.

However, the experience clearly awoken something in the comedian, because since then, he’s appeared on Perry’s Channel 4 series Art Club several times, showing off his latest makes and displaying his skills. And now he’s returning to the RA to take a look at this year’s Summer Exhibition, highlighting the importance of making art, taking part, creativity and why art matters for all.

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But the main thrust of the show focuses on some of the artists who have submitted their works, hoping they will be selected by the notoriously picky panel. Among them are a retired primary school teacher, a contemporary Islamic artist and a web designer. Lycett follows them every step of the way, from dropping off their items at the RA to hearing whether they’ve been successful or not – and beyond.

“This programme is one of my favourite things I’ve worked on in a long time,” says Lycett. “It was such a privilege to meet some of the extraordinary artists and see their brilliant, joyful, thought-provoking and often very funny works. I was massively inspired, and I hope audiences will be too.”

Around 15,000 works are submitted every year, with only 900 making it through, so there could be tears of both disappointment and triumph as dreams are made and hopes dashed. Lycett is the ideal presenter because he’s experienced both – he may have been successful with Chris, but his submissions have been rejected every year since then.

“Joe Lycett: Summer Exhibitionist is highly entertaining, full of warmth, joy and intriguing characters,” adds executive producer Tom Currie. “It showcases the immense creativity of the British public and celebrates the joy of making, as well as art as a superpower.”