Thursday, November 13, 2008

ING Discerning Eye 2008 - a review

The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2008: Two views of west gallery
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell and kind permission of Parker Harris

The ING Discerning Eye exhibition 2008 opens to the public today at the Mall Galleries. Yesterday I had a couple of opportunities to get a preview of the exhibition and below you can find a review of what I saw. An innovation this year is that you can now you see all the work online in a gallery on the Discerning Eye website.

The Discerning Eye Exhibition

First a preamble for those not familiar with the Exhibition. This is a contemporary art exhibition which is:
  • about both emerging and established artists
  • small artwork - original drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture where no 2D or 3D work can be larger than 20 inches including the frame, plinth or stand
  • characterised as a 'buyer's dream' given that the artwork is oriented towards being both affordable and on a domestic scale
By way of context (and precedent), at the Royal Academy Summer Show every year, there is a room called the Small Weston Room which is is crammed full of small paintings. It's probably the most popular room in the entire show and is always full of visitors - and a really high percentage of the works are sold. Well, the ING Discerning Eye exhibition is rather like having an expanded version of the Small Weston Room. However, in this exhibition the small works are spread around the three large galleries at the Mall Galleries and the artwork also includes prints and small sculptures.

The Selectors

The other thing that is different about the Discerning Eye competition is that each has its own very distinct identity and no two are the same. This is because each exhibition is the product of a panel of six selectors - two critics, two artists and two collectors.

The selectors are all given the opportunity to curate their own space within the show. The work they show is selected from an open entry of over 2,000 works and also drawn from the works of artists they have personally invited to exhibit. (This year, this has led to a curious anomaly where Anita Klein is both a selector and also has her work exhibited by two of her fellow selectors.)

This year the selectors are:
  • Collectors:
    • Robert (Bob) Benton the Chairman of shipping company Clarksons, a major media investment banker and the Discerning Eye Chairman from 2003 – 2007. He chose 131 works (west gallery/south wall).
    • Brenda Fenton is a valued supporter of the Discerning Eye. Her career has been in illustration and advertising chose 107 works which are displayed in the North Gallery.
  • Critics:
    • Frances Carey - author, former Deputy Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum and currently Head of National Programmes at the British Museum. She chose 38 works (west gallery/ centre); and
    • award winning journalist and Editor of The Sunday Times Magazine, Robin Morgan He chose 109 works.
  • Artists:
    • painter and Royal Academician Fred Cuming RA (whose work I love) selected 107 works (east gallery); and
    • fellow and past president of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Anita Klein PPRE chose 76 works which are displayed at the far end of of the west gallery
This is the link to the gallery of works on online display - click the selector to see the works which were chosen.

Prizes [update - to be announced on this blog tomorrow]

There are a range of prizes and virtually all are Purchase Prizes. They include:
  • The ING Purchase Prize £5,000
  • The Discerning Eye Founders Prize (in honour of the late Michael Reynolds who died this year) £1,500
  • Meynell Fenton Prize £1,000
  • The Discerning Eye Prize (Chairman's Purchase Prize) £1,000
  • The Benton Prize
  • The Humphreys Purchase Prize £750
  • The Arts Club Prize
  • Regional Prizes (eight prizes of £250 each, totalling £2,000)
The Work

As the work selected is always very personal, it's difficult to compare one exhibition with another. However I prefer the work which has been selected this year.

I do wish however that the exhibition catalogue would distinguish between invited artists and the open entry. I've absolutely no objection to artists being invited however I would like to know which artists survived the selection process and what proportion of the art is from the open entry as opposed to by invitation. I'd also be interested to know how those proportions varied across the different selectors (and if I get the time I may just do that calculation!). You'll note that I have tried to draw that distinction when noting artists by name below.

A small selection of the work curated
by Fred Cuming (top) and Brenda Fenton (below)

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell and kind permission of Parker Harris

I particularly liked
  • an awful lot of the sculpture!
  • the drawings, paintings and sculptures of people chosen by Brenda Fenton. I liked Michael Hyams paintings (an invited artist) and Emma Davis's graphic annotated drawings Vicomte de Valmont and Les Liasons Dangereuses. Catherine Riley's Gaze was an interesting composition and technically impressive while Sara Rossberg's Red Green was amazing.
  • the calligraphic quality and the mark-making in some of the work chosen by Fred Dubarry - including the elegant charcoal drawings nudes by invited artist Karn Holly and Oak Tree in Winter by Susan Taylor
  • the fact that Robin Morgan included photographs in his selection. There is a collection of six photographs by invited artist, renowned photographer Nadav Kander. Viewing iconic faces (of eg Sophia Loren, Boy George and David Beckham) through a 'mask' of some sort was slightly disconcerting.
Photographs by Nadav Kander. Subjects from top left clockwise are:
Sophia Loren; Christoper Lee, David Lynch,
David Beckham, Georgio Aramani and Boy George

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell and kind permission of Parker Harris

Sketchbooks by Paul Ryan
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell and kind permission of Parker Harris
  • the collection of framed journal/sketchbooks by Paul Ryan invited by Frances Carey. They're a fascinating collection of small paintings and pragmatic notes and philosophising - this is an example. You can see all Paul Ryan's sketchbooks on Flickr and you can see more of his work and drawings on his website. For all those keeping sketchbooks you might be interested to know that these were priced at £800 and they all sold before the exhibition opened to the public.
Interestingly, although I recognised a few names, the majority of artists selected for this exhibition are not typically people who I see exhibiting with the art societies who are based at the Mall Galleries. For me this means that the art societies may well be missing a 'trick' in terms of encouraging the display of new work through open entry and generating sales which might benefit the society.

I understand that this year's exhibition sales are already very good after the 'buyers preview' on Tuesday evening (for those with a track record of buying). I was amazed at how many pictures already had that important red sticker.

The exhibition includes work by artists who I know from the internet and class. These include
It also included two of my favourite artists who I've highlighted in previous posts - mainly because of their wonderful skills in drawing and mark-making
  • Felicity House PS - invited by Brenda Fenton. Her drawings were truly delightful as always. They're a real education for all those who think a drawing must cover the whole page.
Dog drawings (4/36, 37 and 38)) by Felicity House
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell and kind permission of Parker Harris
  • Paul Newland RWS - invited by Fred Cuming (pictures: 1/68-1/73). A wonderful mix of a loose painterly approach and excellent draughtsmanship
The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2008 continues at the Mall Galleries, London SW1 until 23 November 2008.

ING Discerning Eye
The ING’s UK Art Programme includes sponsorship of the ING Discerning Eye and the Exhibition which is held annually at the Mall Galleries, London SW1. ING offers a Purchase Prize every year, with the winning picture becoming part of the ING collection.

Previous references to ING Discerning Eye on Making A Mark


  1. VERY Informative as usual, Katherine! I must go and see this one!

  2. the links aren't working Katherine - problem with their site or the link????

  3. Thanks for letting me know Vivien - I'll go and check. I had problems with one of the links when I was setting this up.

  4. Links should now be fixed. Do please leave a comment if you find another one which isn't working.


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