Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: New English Art Club Annual Exhibition 2017

The 2017 Annual Exhibition of the New English Art Club (NEAC) opened at the Mall Galleries last week and continues until 25th June  (10am to 5pm; closes 1pm on final day).

I was unable to get to the PV for the NEAC Annual Exhibition and visited on Sunday afternoon instead. It was delightful to be able to see all the pics in comfort and I think I might want to make more Sunday visits! (Note I do most of the wide shots towards the end of the afternoon when fewer people are present)

This post provides:
  • images of the exhibition
  • my conclusions about 
    • the exhibition overall
    • the OPEN exhibition having viewed it in full three times and done some counting
    • sales - and sizes and price points
  • a listing of the main prizewinners

The Exhibition

The exhibition has 413 paintings, drawings and fine art prints (excluding work by members those not listed in the catalogue) plus 2 watercolours by HRH Prince of Wales. Paintings include oils, acrylic, watercolour and mixed media. Drawings included charcoal, pastel and graphite.

One thing NEAC may want to rethink is this statement. It might have been true once but I'd be happy to debate with the society whether it is still true.
Our Annual Exhibition held at Mall Galleries is now firmly established as a fixture of the London Summer Season, exhibiting painting and drawing made from direct observation.
 Generally the exhibition looked good. I'll be curious to see whether it performs as good as it looks. My notes indicate:
  • obviously a new guiding hand as there is a lot more colour - and then while drinking my cup of tea noted that Richard Pikesley is the new President so that explains that!  I note also that Richard sold extremely well in the exhibition - so he's obviously doing his bit to drum up both traffic and supportive buying collectors.
  • the 'hang' hung together - and presents a very pleasing contrast to the RA Summer Exhibition which I saw earlier in the week - where my eye kept getting 'lost'
  • the artists hung seem to be different - and I can't quite work out what I mean by that. I speculate that it's probably artists I'm used to seeing in the exhibition do't have work included and there are probably some new members whose work I've less familiar with. There again - there's the issue of who got selected for the open...
  • The exhibition is odd in terms of what gets hung where - of which more in the next section
  • The sales are not representative of the exhibition - of which more in the sales section.

The Main Gallery

Almost all the work is by NEAC members.

There were two small works walls in the Main Galleries and both had generated a few sales.

Main Gallery - Mezzanine Small Works Wall
Main Gallery - Cafe Small Works Wall

The Threadneedle Space

Virtually all NEAC members and virtually all unsold.

The North Galleries

Virtually all of the artwork selected from the open submission can be seen in the North Galleries. Most of the work hung in these galleries is small to medium size paintings.

I was VERY bemused by certain hanging decisions:
  • Richard Bawden - a very popular watercolourist portraying domestic scenes (which I guess aren't 'quite the thing' for some) had his watercolours hung in the 'dead' space next to the cafe
  • Two non-members I know who have been repeatedly selected for competitive and prestigious exhibitions (eg BP Portrait, ING Discerning Eye, Lynn Painter Stainers etc) had their work hung on the inside of an archway - passing from one North Gallery space to another. Again a space where people can neither stand back to view the work nor linger long.  It was very odd that BOTH painters have a distinguished background of getting their artwork selected by open exhibitions (not run by art societies) - and yet were both hung in a relatively speaking 'dead space'.  (Incidentally I haven't spoken with either about either the exhibition or my comment - my first reaction of seeing their paintings was 'that's odd'.)
  • an 'open' artist who sold well last year was hung in a smaller gallery and had not managed to interest anybody which again seemed odd.  I do think those hanging would do well to consider who has sold well previously when selecting where artists should hang. 

The Open Exhibition

This is perhaps the most uneven exhibition I've ever seen in terms of the hang.  By which I mean biased in a scientific sense. I think the best way of describing it is:
  • essentially an exhibition of artwork by the members 
  • a very low key and small "open" exhibition - in terms of nature and format of work selected

I'll explain why below.

There were 1985 submissions in 2016 (up 51% from 2015) however only 101 (5%) were selected for the exhibition.  Frankly that's more like the percentage selected I expect to see for open art competitions with very big money prizes and/or massive reputations re CV status enhancement.

More than 75% of the artwork hung in the exhibition is by NEAC members.  I note the exhibition page on the NEAC website also behaves as if the only exhibitors are NEAC members.

I counted the number of works by members and the number of works by non-members. This arises out of a post I published at New Year - see Calendar of Major Art Society Open Exhibitions in 2017 - and the need for change! (note particularly 'the purpose of an open entry' and 'what an open exhibition is not')

The numbers are as follows:
  • NEAC - 312 (75.2%)
  • Open submission (non-members) - 101 (24.3%)
  • HRH - 2 (0.5%) I don't think he has to submit via the open!
  • TOTAL - 415 (100%)

In other words, less than 25% of the artwork comes from the open submission and most of the works are small (see below) - and that's certainly not what I call an open exhibition.  

If this continues, then this will become an exhibition that I'd NOT recommend people submitting their work to given the odds against getting selected.

I'll be doing a round-up at the end of the year of all the percentages across all the exhibitions and providing a further commentary.


  • 13% of the artwork hung had sold over 4 days + evening dinner prior to the PV.
  • 66% of the artwork sold after 4 days was "small"
While exhibitions do sell consistently throughout their hang, the conventional mantra is that most sales tend to occur in the first few days (via collectors previews, the 'more public' private views and the first few days the exhibition is open to the public).

After that sales are completely 'ad hoc' and very easily affected by various factors eg weather, time of year, financial climate, elections and whatever else is happening which distracts people and/or makes them less likely to spend .

I noted which paintings sold and counted the sales - and annotated them as to what size they were. This was a very rough approximation of small, medium and large.

On Sunday I calculate 54 paintings had sold - that's 13% of the total artwork exhibited. If I had the time I'd calculate the value sold as a percentage of the value hung - and it would be a LOT lower. That's because
  • MOST of the paintings sold were small (8.7% of total artwork exhibited)
  • sales split over sizes as follows - with percentages representing the percentage of total sales)
    • large - 5 (9%)
    • medium - 13 (24%)
    • small - 36 (66%)
Yet if we look at the exhibition, most of the walls in the two main galleries (Main and Threadneedle Space) are covered with large and medium sized paintings - most of which have not sold. Put bluntly that means that
  • large paintings might look good - however the bottom line is that they only contribute to a successful exhibition if they sell
  • the wallspace occupied by larger paintings is not earning its keep.
That means that if this were a commercial gallery, the owner would be having a serious chat with the artist!

My theory as to why large artworks are not selling lies in the prices - with a lot of the larger works being priced at several thousand pounds. Just because some people sell for thousands doesn't mean everybody can....

My inescapable conclusion is that either NEAC members are
  • either painting for a market which doesn't exist at the Mall Galleries
  • or have priced their paintings too high relative to their individual market 
  • or members are not doing enough to market their work to their target markets in terms of collectors and potential buyers
  • or haven't created the very necessary 'breadcrumb trail' from smaller through medium to larger sized works. (which suggests maybe NEAC should experiment more with how they hang the work)
  • or all three.
I wonder what would happen if members had to rent the amount of wallspace they occupy? Just a thought....

That said I did not that there was a much better online social media presence. In fact there was almost too much in terms of regular Facebook Posts about who was exhibiting at the exhibition. One has been popping up in my feed every day!

You can see the catalogue for the exhibition on Issuu. This lists artworks, artists, media and prices.

The Prizewinners

The prizewinners are as follows. Most of them went to NEAC members.

The Doreen McIntosh Prize (£5,000): Awarded to Paul Gildea NEAC for his painting 'Night Watch'. This is a very striking 'urban' painting and quite unlike anything else I've seen in previous exhibitions.

Contemporary Arts Trust Award (£1,000): Awarded to Alex Maczkowski for his painting 'Toil' (gouache, carbon and charcoal). This is very sensitive treatment - very reminiscent of the Millet/Van Gogh treatment of works in the fields.

Jackson's Art Supplies Award : Awarded to Michael Collins for his painting 'Study for Birling Gap' - a striking format matches a striking choice of subject matter.

The Woodhay Picture Gallery Prize for Drawing: Awarded to Arthur Neal NEAC for his drawing 'KT II'

The NEAC Critics' Prize: Awarded to Peter Brown Hon RBA NEAC PS ROI RP for his painting 'Absolutely Chucking It Down George Street, Bath 2016'. A very impressive and very large painting with a very impressive price. Peter excels at making muted colours colourful and not in the least bit boring! To my mind he has now overtaken Ken Howard.

The Dry Red Press Award: Awarded to Ann Shrager NEAC for her painting 'Diwali Elephant'. Red is of course always a great eye-catcher!

​The Peter Ashley Framing Prize: Awarded to David Cobley NEAC for his painting 'Marvellous Mr Hockney'. I didn't notice this in the gallery but when processing the photo I was struck by how much this looked like an ipad screen - which I guess was very probably the reference for this painting.

The Winsor & Newton Award (£500 art materials) is voted for by the public throughout the exhibition. (For the record I voted for a NEAC member!)
Aspiring artists might wish to note that NEAC runs a Regular Drop-in Life Drawing Class at the Mall Galleries 

Previous posts about the Annual NEAC Exhibition

1 comment:

  1. As a submitting and selected artist this year I'd completely agree with your review of the show Katherine. It does seem massively biased towards members. What you didn't mention was the finance side of things. It costs £15 per picture to submit (digitally). So if they're receiving c. 2000 entries that's £30,000 - this is clearly a large chunk of the exhibition costs, and it does strike me that the Open submission are paying for the members to display their large works in a prime Central London space for free! This probably explains the lack of focus on sales, and the preference for large works - for members this is a marketing opportunity as much as a sales one. I love your idea of charging members for wall space! I already know several good artists selected in previous years who no longer submit to the NEAC, because of this massive imbalance. Unfortunately, as always in the art world there is a seemingly endless supply of artists who are prepared to stump up £15 to fund the members show. But a grerat article, keep up the good work!


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