Thursday, June 23, 2016

The NEAC Annual Exhibition 2016 at the Mall Galleries

It was a lot easier to see the paintings at the NEAC Annual Exhibition 2016 yesterday than it was last week at the Private View.  I had meant to return sooner but my dodgy knee and ankle had other ideas!

There are 412 artworks in the exhibition hung across three galleries (compared to 397 artworks in 2015).  A further 9 works were shortlisted for The Haworth Prize for landscape painting and drawing and are hung in the Threadneedle Space (compared to 12 last year)

That means there's a lot of artwork to see. The artwork includes paintings - in every medium (oil, acrylic, watercolour, egg tempera, mixed media) plus drawings in a variety of media but notably pencil charcoal and pen and ink - and fine art prints which employ a range of approaches. It is however an exhibition which appears to be overwhelmingly about oil painting (or do oil painters invariably pick oil painters?)

The exhibition continues until 1pm on Saturday 25th June - so there's not a lot of time left to see it. Read about the prizewinners, new website and exhibition catalogue in my previous post Prizewinners at the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition 2016

[VIDEO NOTE: I've got three small videos of the exhibition which I need to edit together which give you a better impression of what the exhibition looked like and the artwork hung. I'll add in a link here as soon as I've got it uploaded to YouTube

I'm also crunching some numbers to check out the average price of a work by media and size - and I'll update this post when I have that information "crunched"!]

The new website seems to have lost the old text which sets out what the exhibition is supposed to be about.  You'll see below that I also comment on a notion that the exhibition has lost some of its focus. I'd recommend NEAC address this in future and think about whether and if so how "form follows function" in terms of the purpose of the exhibition and the nature of the way it is organised.

By and large the artwork is figurative and representational and often grounded in realism. However it also has a leaning towards those that relate more to the impressionism end of the spectrum rather than those who like everything precise and hyperreal.

The monochrome wall in the North Gallery
- prints and works on paper in pencil, charcoal and pen and ink

The good news

The monochrome wall (see above) is a resounding success. It mixes works by members with those from the open entry. It demonstrates draughtsmanship alongside more lyrical drawing. The artwork is made using pen and ink, pencil and charcoal as well as etchings and aquatints. To me it really works well and includes some excellent work. Etchings and aquatints by Austin Cole impressed as they always do (I also spotted Austin's work in the Summer Exhibition - but then I am looking for it!).

I particularly liked Coastal Path by Dominic Keshavarz. The skill and technique employed in creating the tonal and spatial depth in what is a very complex drawing is very impressive. To do this using pen and ink is even more reason to stop and look and linger and look again.  I've seen a lot of very fine pen and ink drawings and this artist is up there with some of the best when it comes to an interpretation of realism.

Coastal Path by Dominic Keshavarz
pen and ink, 17" cx 11"
(priced at a £1,000 and SOLD)
You can see a much better version of the drawing in this tweet.

Hanging a multitude of small works in the area around the tables and chairs where people tend to linger is a great idea. It means that while having a cup of tea and a conversation and/or snack, visitors to the exhibition can survey the smaller and more affordable works.

This is a far better way of encouraging people to buy than putting them all together in the far end of the North Gallery.

Small works on the wall next to the steps - 11 have sold.
Small works on the adjacent feature wall - 3 have sold
There are narratives about the art on the wall. In principle I think these are a really good idea - it's a very large exhibition. They were interesting to read and suggested ways in which people could look at the art.  However they felt like a very mini version of the introduction panels for each Room in the Summer Exhibition. I was left thinking that they didn't address a big enough theme or space. Plus I didn't understand why they were only in some places and not others.  (see below for further comments on organization of the exhibition)

So full marks for trying to innovate - but there's a need for reflection and thinking about how to develop this idea and do better next year.

Some members had their work hung in groups - particularly if they'd thought about how the works might be organised when choosing the formats to submit. This is the first time I've seen all of Melissa Scott-Miller's work together - and it made for a very impressive and coherent corner of the Threadneedle

A set of five paintings of parks and gardens in Islington by Melissa Scott-Miller
Framing your paintings in grey guarantees they won't be hung on a grey feature wall!
Other members - often those with medium sized work - are hung alongside those of works selected from the open entry. Below is an example - the small works are all by non-members whereas the members work is medium sized.

I checked the catalogue last week and noted that the vast majority of non-members submitting via the open entry only had one work chosen. It appears that maybe those non-members who submit small works are more likely to be successful?

Works by members and non-members

The not so good news

One of our key aims is to support and nurture aspiring artists, giving them the opportunity to show their work alongside that of our established members.
a quote from the old website on a past review
I've always taken this notion of showing alongside very literally - as in mixing up work from the open entry with work by members.

However 80% of the artwork is by members - which does bring into question whether this really is an open exhibition....

I've commented in the past how hanging ONLY members' artworks in the Main Gallery can cause some unfavourable comparisons between it and artwork hung elsewhere. The RSPP took this criticism on board in 2016 and portraits from the open entry were spread around all the gallery spaces - and in my opinion the exhibition looked a lot better as a result.

This NEAC Exhibition approaches the same issue in a different way. So while there are groups of paintings by members in, for example, the North Gallery, alongside works from the open entry

...which included this wall with paintings by two of the older members of the Society June Berry NEAC Hon RE RWA RWS and Roy Freer NEAC ROI RI - which I loved

Colourful and painterly paintings by June Berry and Roy Freer the Main Gallery , artworks from the Open Entry are confined to small works only - on the two walls around the cafe area - and not in what many members seem to think is the 'serious' part of the Main Gallery (ie, the long walls and the 'hot spot' - the end wall)

I just have a very simple notion of how an exhibition should hang. It should be based on themes or concepts or colour - and sometimes on the basis of the size of works (i.e. I'm a fan of a wall with small works - it means none get swamped by large works). However whether the artist is a member of somebody who submitted via the open entry in my view has little relevance to where their work should be located in an exhibition.  The latter is associated with notions of elitism or cliques - which is something I don't really associate with NEAC.

Every room should look as good as the every other. If any artwork is weak then it should be left out of the hang - period. The only exception is when you have absolutely standout artwork which takes pride of place.

Was the standout art of the exhibition - on the "hot spot" end wall?
I've commented before on NEAC's apparent obsession with hanging really dark pictures in prime spots.
So - it's good that there is some progress in terms of mixing up the work - but I feel there is even more scope to do better.

My main reason for saying that is the exhibition felt a bit disjointed. It seemed to be an exhibition of parts rather than one which worked as a whole.

It particularly lacked "sightlines" - works which draw you across rooms on first look. That said some work which looked good at a distance disappointed as you got up close. For me good art has to do both.

While some work is excellent, I certainly found I liked some parts of the exhibition much more than other parts. I wasn't sure whether this was related to art or hang and in the end decided it was more about the hang than the art. Although, that said, this is an exhibition which looks relatively staid in comparison to  a lot of contemporary figurative art done by much younger artists

NEAC 2016: The Threadneedle Space - Howarth Prize on the left and main exhibition on the right
highlights the disjointed nature of the hang
I always think a good exhibition is rather like a good painting. You walk in and the focal point catches your eye and then the layout of the work creates a pathway through the exhibition. Some areas excite and some areas provided a much needed rest for the eye and stimulate in a quieter way - but each leads into the next.

I can't help but feel that if Patrick Cullen's fabulous group of artwork about India had been on the end wall rather than hidden behind the wall divider in the middle of the long wall, it might have looked a very different exhibition.

In this exhibition, while smallish groups of artworks by two or three artists worked well, it didn't feel as if the exhibition hang overall had been designed as a whole.

Small life drawing studies next to large and vivid paintings in the North Gallery
Whenever I've seen an FBA exhibition with these characteristics in the past, I've asked questions and the answers given have generally indicated a change in personnel in terms of who's planning, organising and doing the hang.  I'm left wondering if that's what happened this year.

Somebody who had visited the exhibition said to me that there were "a lot of brown paintings" in the exhibition. I've commented in the past that I thought NEAC had lost the great sense of colour which I've enjoyed in past exhibition and that those selecting and hanging work seemed to really like dark and dismal colours - especially near the centre of feature walls!

This year I don't think it has been as bad as it was in 2013.  However again - it could do better and in some parts did. This wall was brownish - but it was also great!

A well presented wall with great impact for all the artworks
The balance works in terms of tone and colour and hang

I've listed out my reviews of past exhibitions at the end. Each contains lots of images of previous exhibitions and I invite NEAC members to review them and see if they agree or disagree with my conclusions.

A healthy, vibrant art society is one which has a good distribution of members across all age ranges, otherwise it runs the risk of being viewed as an anachronism by younger artists.

For me the big questions that the NEAC Council and members need to address are:
  • the average age of members of the society - and whether it's increasing as time passes
  • who chooses new members and 
  • what hangs where - and why.

It is, of course, not a challenge unique to NEAC and is an ongoing challenge for all art societies.

Previous posts about NEAC Annual Exhibitions

1 comment:

Melissa B. Tubbs said...

Love the monochrome room. That's something we need to make use of here in the U.S.
Dominic Keshavarz's work is gorgeous!!!

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