Gilbert and George quit Royal Academy over cancelled exhibition

The artist duo resigned their esteemed positions as academicians after the RA told them a show on their work would not go ahead.

13 July 2020
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2 minute read


Just three years ago, artists Gilbert and George became the first duo in 250 years to be accepted into the Royal Academy as a single entity. Now that short-lived stint amid one of the UK art world’s most prestigious clubs has come to an end, as the artists have resigned their academician posts over the handling of a cancelled show, The Guardian reports. The artists mentioned the planned show in an interview in the Evening Standard in February, but upon being told a few days later by the RA that the show would not go ahead, the pair quit.

Gilbert and George are known for their anti-elitist artworks and provocative humour, so a show at the RA was sure to have ruffled at least a few feathers. In 2017, the duo staged an exhibition at the White Cube called The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy, brandishing the word “fuck” 4000 times across the gallery walls. Yet their appointment as academicians proved their broadly accepted position as one of art’s most exciting and impactful forces. A common sight around east London, Gilbert and George – like the rest of us – had to change their routine during lockdown, and created a week-long video diary for White Cube’s Instagram account.

RA Academicians are nominated and voted for by existing academicians. There are just 80 royal academicians at any one time, a roster that currently includes Antony Gormley, John Akomfrah, Rose Wylie, Lubaina Himid, Sonia Boyce, Eva Rothschild, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Heatherwick, Bob and Roberta Smith and Grayson Perry. There must always be at least 14 sculptors, 12 architects and eight printmakers, the rest being painters. When an academician turns 75 they become senior academicians, making room for new additions. The RA has not publicly commented on their resignation, but their profile remains on the website while their RA title has been removed from after their name.

Meanwhile, the RA is hosting a show on Picasso, and exhibitions on Tracey Emin and Gaugin are due to open later this year, so it is speculated the institution is planning to diversify its schedule following widespread criticism of the lack of BIPOC artists given exhibitions at major galleries.


Alice Tye: painting of Gilbert and George for Printed Pages SS18

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Gilbert and George: “Early morning. The Artists set out for breakfast at Jeff’s Café in nearby Brune Street. Seated are the Artist’s friends George Crompton and Tara McKerr.” © Gilbert and George courtesy White Cube

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent the last ten years working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on

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