Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: Threadneedle Prize Exhibition 2012

The most important thing you need to know about this year's Exhibition for the Threadneedle Prize 2012 is that it's the biggest and the best in this art competition's five year history.

It feels like it's come of age,  It's also doing made a leap forward within the context of a very healthy new appetite for figuration in painting as this year's blockbuster shows by Hockney and Freud have clearly demonstrated.

The challenge now for this competition is that each year of competition should contribute towards the development of a vocabulary of and about figuration based essentially on observation of the real world.

Threadneedle Prize 2012 - Exhibition at the Mall Galleries
The West Gallery
The long term vision and direction of this Prize is to advance a modern case for figuration, not to haul it backwards or to restrict its development
Lewis McNaught
Unlike last year's exhibition, this really does feel like an exhibition of contemporary and figurative painting and sculpture.

Unlike last year I have no complaints.  That said I wouldn't have selected all the works and my shortlist would have been different (so no surprises there!) - however I do very much feel that this year we have an exhibition which is much more worthy of the biggest prize for a single art work in the UK.

I particularly like the stance taken by the Selectors this year - as explained by Lewis McNaught, the Mall Galleries Director, in his introduction to the Exhibition (which is also a "recommended read" by me)
Mindful of their responsibility to maintain and develop the competition's standards, the three selectors....adopted a rigorous approach to selection, scrutinising during the course of a long selection day the execution and finish of each work that had passed an online pre-selection process
He also notes that many of the works rejected from the open submission were ones where the final finish and the quality of the execution did not quite match the great originality and concept.  I'm thinking this may well find its way into guidance for artists next year

I'm guessing that some artists reading this will now be bouncing up and down and cheering given that the quality of the execution is being identified as an explicit and important factor in choosing works for the exhibition - alongside those relating to exploring notions of what figurative means and the idea behind the work and its aesthetic appeal.  I'm guessing there were rather a lot of comments about some of the works in last year's show which prompted the need to reassert the notion that quality of finish does really count for something.  However those who read this post and contemplate entering work next year also need to be mindful of the fact that technique alone will not get artwork into this show.

The Exhibition can be seen at the Mall Galleries until 13th October.  If you visit, you can vote for the Visitor's Choice Award (£10,000).  You can also view the works online.

The Winners of the Threadneedle Prize and the Visitor's Choice Prize - and the runners up will be announced at an Awards Dinner on 10th October - at which I'm going to try live blogging!

Tomorrow I'll be posting about my choice of the works that I'd have made my short list - and my predictions as to who will win the Prizes.

So - on with my review of the exhibition - and lots more images!

Entrance to the West Gallery on Preview Night when the Shortlisted Artists were announced.
The 153 works in the exhibition make all three galleries and spaces feel comfortably full rather than crowded.  To me it felt much more like the visual richness of an art fair and a lot less like an "arty farty" gallery with lots of white space

The increase in the numbers of works in the show also mean many more people are going to find many more works that they like a lot.

The hang is excellent.  I really enjoyed the way paintings and sculpture had been grouped and juxtaposed and the way the long walls had been broken up.

Portraits and paintings of people are grouped in a corner of the North Gallery
- along with a very figurative sculpture
A group of smaller still life paintings

A group of clouds - in blues and greys
There's a lot of small sculptures in the exhibition - displayed in cases and grouped on display boxes
Part of a very large sculpture - of which more tomorrow
Robert Truscott - Defeat,
Mixed Media, Plaster, Epoxy Putty, Material on Armature, 367x167x49cm, £30,000
I found it quite heavy on the monochromatic - although I'm not sure that's been recognised.  There's certainly colour in there - but overall I wouldn't call it a highly colourful show.

A display of two works in the Threadneedle Space (the former East gallery)(left) Francisca Prietto - Between Folds/Paris 1831,
Rare old book: Paris And Its Environs by A. Pugin & C. Heath; 1831, 136x106cm, £8,600
(right) Marianne Morlid - Extra Heavy Crude,
Bitumen on canvas, 168x168cm, £2000
Monochromatic patterns and triangular shapes in charcoal
left) Planar Resonance - Ilse Black,
Graphite powder, pencil, charcoal on paper, 100cm x 78cm, £2500
(right) Olympic Stadium Nearing Completion - Jeanette Barnes,
compressed charcoal, 169cm x 225cm, £14,000
What it lacks in colour it certainly makes up in other elements of design - there's an emphasis on line, texture, shape and pattern throughout the show - often in the monochromatic works.  In short it's a much more visually enriching show.

Now for some negatives.

There are some works which, to be honest, I think work better as digital images online rather than on the wall.  Some may well generate cries of "How did that get in?" however I want to emphasise that in my opinion these are very much in the minority.

However I have a problem with some of the prices on the artwork - particularly where I know that an artist does not normally charge this sort of price for their work.  I don't know whether artists are taking a lead from some of the prices charged for work in earlier shows.  I don't know whether they feel the need to hike up their prices to be taken seriously. I would say that nobody likes to find that they have paid over the odds - even if they're a banker and "in funds"!  Some of the higher priced works are justified by the nature and size of the work and the artist's track record in sales.  Some are not.  I'll leave it at that - and caution artists entering next year's show to have a long hard think about what they'd say to an actual or potential purchaser who contacted them to discuss the price charged for a work of art.  In my view, the key to pricing is consistency and not opportunism or ambition.

In tomorrow's post:

More about the Threadneedle Prize

For more about the Threadneedle Prize 2012 - and the Prize in earlier years - see my earlier posts (and images) below

2012 Threadneedle Prize

2011 Threadneedle Prize
Other information about art competitions in the UK: Art Competitions in the UK - this includes links to earlier years of the Threadneedle Prize



  1. Your review is spot on Katherine. I saw the show today and have to admit I was particularly interested as I had work pre-selected for this exhibition but not included in the final hang. I thought there were some really standout pieces, both painting and sculpture. It's a varied and interesting show, the hang is excellent and it's well worth seeing. Fiona G. Roberts

  2. Yes - thanks for posting this.. Threadneedle is one of those numerous things I apply for each year without success and as often with these things when you've paid your application fee you can feel sour grapes when your work doesn't make the pre-selection stage and not living in London you get no more sense of how the show panned out-- but your review seems pretty concise and shows there was some sort of thought and hard work going into the reviewing of applications !


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