Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 10th Exhibition

This is the last week of the exhibition of the The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2018 at the Mall Galleries. If you've not yet been it's definitely worth visiting.

Preview/Awards Night - The Columbia Threadneedle Award 2018
To my mind it's one of the better exhibitions in the history of the prize
Visitors to the exhibition also get to decide who to vote for The Visitors’ Choice Award, a further prize worth £10,000 to the winning artist. The Visitors’ Choice Award winner will be announced at the end of the exhibition.

I wrote as the exhibition opened about the shortlisted artists and the winner Ana Schmidt wins Threadneedle Prize 2018

This post is about the exhibition itself. The exhibition is on until 1pm on 7 February 2018, Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1.  It's open daily 10am to 5pm and admission is free.

About The Columbia Threadneedle Exhibition 2018

The submission and the selection

  • It's the product of the selection of work from 4,118 submissions via the open entry - from 2,097 artists. 
  • Just 104 artworks by 95 artists were selected for the exhibition.
  • In percentage terms that's 2.5% of the artwork and 4.5% of the artists
  • The average number of works submitted were 1.96
  • Compared to 2016, the number of entries grew by 7.5% and the number of artists submitting work grew by 6.2% - so the competition remains an attractive proposition for figurative artists despite it now being a biennial.
You can read profiles and visit the websites of the artists who had work selected for the exhibition in my post Selected artists for Columbia Threadneedle Prize Exhibition 2018.


Interestingly this exhibition is dominated by oil paintings - including some very large oil paintings.  I discovered this by using the menu selector for the online exhibition. Why is it that oil is seen as the media that must be used for art competitions?

(Left) Duff by Ruth MurrayOil on canvas, 210 x 150 cm £27,000
(Right) Shallows by Helen Flockhart, Oil on linen, 105 x 155 cm £15,000 [SOLD]
There were very few acrylic paintings - although one of them worn First Prize.

More positively, there are a significant number of very impressive works in monochrome - using graphite, charcoal and/or pen and ink - although some are on oil.

(Left) The Final Stages by Polly Townsend, Charcoal, graphite, and ink, 44 x 58 cm £1,200
(Right) Abbeyfields by Dominic Keshavarz, Pen and ink, 80 x 120 cm £3,500

I've now been extremely impressed in two different exhibitions by Dominic Keshavarz's pen and ink drawings. They are very complex - comprising very fine dots of ink - and are very impressive. I'm a big fan of artists who convert their ink into tonal ranges to enhance the gamut of tonal variation. (For some reason it's categorised under Pencil and Charcoal) 
I live in Kent, UK and make ink drawings on paper that explore the relationships between time and space and line and tone.
(Left) Fragmented by Amanda Cornish, Charcoal on paper; 107 x 157 cm £4,300
(Right) I'm a long way from home by Jamie Routley Oil on canvas, 95 x 140 cm £12,000
I couldn't decide whether I liked Amanda Cornish's charcoal drawing on paper - as six panels - more or less than the pen and ink drawing by Dominic Keshavarz.

  • Both are of nature - which I love, 
  • both are drawings - very much my first love 
  • and consequently both are in my top 10!

There seemed to be fewer sculptures and installations compared to previous exhibitions. Maybe that's because the ones that were in the exhibition tended to be much smaller. Apart from one.

Micks deed by Bryden is large, uncompromising and a very prominent work within the exhibition. It's worth reading the narrative which goes with the work - which explains it - and yet this has not been included on the website.  Also the artist is not included in the list of names of selected artists provided to me....  Click the 'i' top right of this page to get at the explanation

Also there are very few fine art prints and only one very innovative example of new media - one of the shortlisted works which is a digital collage of photographic material reproduced as a transparency on a bespoke LED lightbox. (I'm hoping this one wins the Visitors Choice Award!)

The great sadness for me was that there are only two watercolour paintings selected for the exhibition. I can't work out whether that's because the watercolour paintings submitted failed to impress or the Judges just aren't fans of watercolour.

The exhibition themes

Normally if an exhibition is going to be themed this is announced at the outset. It's often the case that prizes are then linked to the themes. Not so with this exhibition at the Call for Entries stage - where there was absolutely no mention of themes

This exhibition has been divided into four subject categories:
The links are to the virtual exhibition of each category online.

I think having themes actually helps with the problem of curating what has always been a very diverse exhibition of contemporary figurative art. It actually presented as a more coherent exhibition as a result.

What's fascinating is which themes were chosen and what these in turn say about the preoccupations of figurative artists today.

Might I suggest that next time it's worth thinking along the lines of having a winner for each category as well as an overall winner.

Portrait and Figure

Larger portraits are hung in the Threadneedle Space.  Few were what one might call a conventional portrait - so more on the 'figurative fine art' side of the equation.

Interestingly people who were "doing something" have often been categorised within their context - either Urban or Landscape. i.e. the figure has seen as being subservient to the context.

The patchwork quilt effect of this corner of the exhibition was curiously mesmirising
- I kept coming back for another look.

Figures appear to be somewhat incidental in some of the larger paintings
- being a very small part of the whole.

Portraits were distinctly unflashy - the jury for this prize were clearly not trying to replicate the BP Portrait Award in any way.

That said, I could have done with seeing more narrative paintings involving figures and/or group portraits. Those who can pull off an impressive group portrait seem to be a dying breed of painter!

Quiet portraits

Smaller paintings hung near the entrance to the North Galleries. I particularly liked this section - lots to look at!

A short wall of smaller paintings - some are portraits and some paintings involving figures

Tempus by Layla Rose
Mixed media, acrylic, oil paint and pastel, 110 x 88 cm £5,000

Landscape and Nature

Below is a painting in my top 10 with the exhibition - a very painterly 'exhibit' of moths by Jane Gardiner (Facebook Page) who spends 3 days each week as a GP seeing her patients and the rest of the week in her studio painting portraits or researching her next museum painting. Her paintings are now seen regularly in the more prestigious art competitions.

I think I'd have had the painting below in the Still Life section - since they were alive and now they are still.  But it's been categorised as "Nature".

Maybe More Moths by Jane Gardiner 
Oil on linen, 92 x 92 cm
£3,700 [SOLD]
Landscape paintings

Still Life and Domestic

This category was as much about the interior / domestic scenes as it was about conventional still life.  Often about making the mundane look interesting - often through choice of subject, crop and composition and colour palette.

Still Life and Domestic in the North Gallery
The North Galleries has, in my opinion, one of the best hung walls in the exhibition. I just loved the way the orange colour popped then rested then echoed up and down the wall.

A wall in the North Galleries

Urban & City Life

The interesting aspect of the exhibition for me was the dominance of Urban and City Life as a theme.

A combination of urban and Landscape|Nature paintings
Urban and City Life: Monochomatic and big on shapes
There was something fairly stark about a number of the paintings of urban city life. However while some were distinctly monochrome, others were very definitely full of colour

Urban and City Life: the forgotten places which acquire decoration
It also included two of the most impressive and shortlisted works including the winner (top left in the above photograph).


I thought some of the prices were absolutely crackers.  Prices should relate to
  • the artist and their career history / track record to date
  • what level the artist normally sells at (as opposed to asks!) 
  • whatever trend is being established for movement on prices for their portfolio
  • the media they are using
  • the size of the painting
In my opinion it's a HUGE mistake to price for the exhibition - as some artists evidently have done - rather than the artist.

Quite apart from anything else, potential buyers are quite capable of checking out an artist's track record online.

By all means, add on a small premium, but don't expect to charge thousands and sell your work unless it's evident that you have a track record of sales at that level and/or a very impressive work of art.

Use the online exhibition on the website to track which paintings have sold and which have not. Then checkout the artist/media/size etc.....

ARCHIVE - The First 10 Years of the Threadneedle Prize

Posts on this blog about the first decade of the Threadneedle Prize.

2018 Threadneedle Prize

2016 Threadneedle Prize

2014 Threadneedle Prize

2013 Threadneedle Prize

2012 Threadneedle Prize

2011 Threadneedle Prize

2010 Threadneedle Prize

2009 Threadneedle Prize

2008 Threadneedle Prize

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