Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2019

This is my review of the 2019 ING Discerning Eye Exhibition at the Mall galleries until 24 November 2019.  It contains four hundred and fifty-seven works by two hundred and eighteen artists.

Sir Tim Rice likes pink!
UPDATE: I've rewritten this review re. the count of how many works can get in from the open entry. I know I read something somewhere that indicated a maximum of three works could be hung from the six from an open submission - but now can't find it! I've indicated which text is now deleted and new text is indicated in red.

The reality continues that it is absolutely impossible to detect which are open entries and which are invited artists. Hence the notion that 25% of this exhibition comes from the open entry is simply NOT VERIFIABLE.

Update #2: I'm advised that the metrics for the 2019 exhibition are now on the website although I was unable to find them earlier - because the figures are buried very deep in the archives - which one would not expect for an exhibition which is currently on display (i.e. wy not on the home page??). The figures quoted below reinforce my initial impression that the vast majority of the SERIES of works MUST be from invited artists!

In the 2019 exhibition 75% of the artists and 47% of the works are from the open submission. Painting and drawing make up over 48% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 41%, printmaking about 7%, and photography about 4%

I tried to write an "in a nutshell" summary in the Mall Galleries while sat having a cup of tea but didn't succeed.  It went something likes this
  • a generally good exhibition - with some peaks and troughs
  • very disappointing that 3 of the 6 selectors chose less than half their exhibition from the open entry
  • exhibits are most impressive when they mix small works by different artists
  • Sir Tim Rice certainly likes pink, has chosen some interesting work and has by far the most winners
  • Kwame Kwei-Armah appears to have has produced the most "open" exhibition
  • Charlotte Hodes has hung her own work in her own exhibition!!! I was speechless - apart from the exclamation marks!
  • Gill Button prefers series doesn't seem to understand open exhibitions - or why this competition has an open entry.
  • Louis Wise's words in the catalogue belie what I see on his walls - and how come he's got three artists all with the same surname?
  • John Penrose's ability to hang an exhibition is self evident in the North Gallery - and he probably has the best exhibition of them all.  It was certainly the one which was easiest on my eye.
If you'd like to know more read on!

The Exhibition

The exhibition comprises SIX small and diverse exhibitions - one for each of the six selector/curators - to from each category artist, collector and critic.

Each small exhibition (of c.70-100+ works) represents the individual interests, taste and style of that individual curator
The only restrictions are limitation of size (only small works are permitted) and to select at least 25% of their section from the open submission.


The prizes are listed in each selector's section.
You can see a complete list of all prizes - and who won them - on this page on the website


The Selectors this year are:

  • John Penrose
  • Louis Wise
The selectors choose both publicly submitted works and works by personally invited artists.
You'll note that I make a big thing below about invited artists. That's because there are so many. Every exhibit has a note of
  • how many artworks exhibited
  • how many are invited artists
  • what number and percentage of the artwork hung by the selector came from the open entry.
It's easy to identify artists who definitely invited from the catalogue as anybody who has more than three works definitely did not come through the open entry.  There may of course be more - and I suspect there are who submitted less than three works.

It really does challenge the notion that this is an art competition.  There again I guess the organisers would suggest it isn't really an art competition.

UPDATE: What challenges the notion that this is an open competition is the fact that there is no indication in the catalogue of who are the invited artists and which works have been juried in. 

My challenge to them would be to suggest a ratio of invited to open entry - say 50:50 so artists don't end up entering work to exhibits chosen by selectors who have decided to allow invited artists to dominate their exhibits. Otherwise it's grossly unfair to those entering via the open entry

UPDATE: The current commitment is to select at least 25% of their section from the open submission. So how do we tell what percentage have been juried in?

That's "unfair" as in explicit competition rules for "fair" in the UK......

BELOW you can see images of and read my reviews of their individual exhibitions.


Gill Button

a"Instagram sensation" (says the Parker Harris newsletter) - a British painter and illustrator whose work, focusing on the world of fashion, has been featured in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Tatler amongst others. 1992-1995: Kingston University London, BA (hons) Illustration 1991-1992: Maidstone College of Art
  • DE Original Print Prize - £250 “Watchmaker” by Angus Hampel 1/36
  • Aesthetica Prize - subscription - “Dreams of Somewhere Else (DOSE)” by Jad Oakes 1/48
  • Scotland Regional Prize - £250 - “The Slip” by Pippa Gatty 1/35
  • South West Regional Prize - £250 - “Ancient Wilderness (1) 2019” by Corinna Spencer 1/65
  • East Anglia Regional Prize - £250 - “Hatfield House Park, first walks” by Freya Pocklington 1/60

Number of works: 78 artworks by 31 artists - of which 12 had multiple works of which 56 are INVITED artists i.e. 22 from the open (28%) 

everything on the walls is invited artists multiple works
More invited work multiple works - with some work from the open entry on the back wall

This was the first exhibition I saw - in the Threadneedle Space and I knew before I'd got to the bottom of the steps that exhibition was some way adrift from the ethos of this competition.

What I saw was a LOT of multiple works - meaning fewer artists got a chance to exhibit and/or more invited artists

It would be instructive to know how much of the exhibition is funded by open entry fees and how much by the Discerning Eye organisation and sponsors.

What I saw was a LOT of work by invited artists and very little work by people selected from the open entry. Bottom line the impression given is that this exhibit is NOT a great recommendation for future exhibition entries

Only 28% of the works on display came from the open entry. The remainder were works by invited artists - doubtless some of whom are chums of the artist.

It would be instructive to know how much of the exhibition is funded by open entry fees and how much by the Discerning Eye organisation and sponsors. - because this type of exhibition makes it look as if chums of the judge are being subsidised by the entry fees of the artists who submitted via the open entry.

The organisers can always address this by:
  • making explicit to selectors how many works or what percentage of their exhibition MUST come from the open entry
  • being explicit about how the exhibition is funded - split between entry fees and sponsorship

Charlotte Hodes 

studied at Brighton College of Art and then the Slade, graduating with an MA in 1984. Awarded numerous grants and prizes, including the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2006. She has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. She's also the Professor of Fine Art at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London
  • St Cuthberts Mill Award - £200 of paper - “Flight Path XXI” by Louisa Crispin 2/11

Number of works: 80 artworks by 35 artists of which 11 (including the selector) have multiple works  50 are INVITED artists i.e. 30 from the open (37.5%)

I can't quite get over the fact that one JUDGE decided it was OK to hang her own work in her own exhibition. Since when did a selector you ever get to hang your own work in an exhibition which has an open entry? Would Charlotte Hodes maybe like to explain this to all those who paid fees to enter their work in what is ostensibly an open art competition?

After the farce last year when one of the Judges won the top $5,000 prize in this exhibition, I thought it would be beyond doubt that somebody would review what is said to the Judges before they start to select work for their exhibition and for prizes. 

Obviously not!  

Yet again a lack of very clear and explicit guidance to Judges has created a farcical situation which does no good to the reputation of this exhibition.

Her artwork is right in the middle of this image.

I found that spotting she'd hung her own work in her own exhibition just spoiled the rest of her exhibition for me.

Which was a pity because it was interesting and definitely included some excellent work.

Including a couple of drawings of wasps by an artist I know who works in graphite - who won one of the prizes. I've been watching her work progress over the years and she's very definitely on to something with her 'Flightpath' series of works related to the wasp nest she had at her home. I also like the way she's framing them with no mat.

St Cuthbert's Mill Award
“Flight Path XXI” by Louisa Crispin

There was a lot of sculpture and doll like objects in this exhibition. Sculpture I like. Dolls are something I find very odd outside a nursery.


Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE 

born Ian Roberts, is a British actor, playwright, director, singer and broadcaster.
  • Penrose Purchase Prize - £1,000 - “Balfour Road” by Giles Winter 3/76
  • London & South East Regional Prize - £250 - “Poor Creature (after Mike Leigh's Mr Turner)” by Sheila Wallis 3/74
  • North Regional Prize - £250 - “Sunrise, River Hull” by Christopher Knox 3/46

Number of works: 77 artworks by 59 artists of which 11 had multiple works  12 are INVITED artists i.e. 65 from the open (85%)

I applaud the judgement of Kwame Kwei-Armah to stick for the most part to expanding the number of artists who got the chance to exhibit - with most of his multiples being pairs to artists he selected from the open entry.  He has a lot of good work - and also distinct themes.

I particularly liked his monochromatic section which was very strong.

The monochromatic section - which included one of the prizewinners
Lots of buildings and people in Kwame Kewi-Armah's chosen artworks
It was noticeable that there were a lot of people and buildings in his selection. It was almost as if he was choosing paintings which felt 'real' to him.

I liked this painting of a house in the evening. They make such fascinating subjects when you can see people inside and I love the different quality of light in the lit rooms. A lesser artist would have made them all the same.

“Balfour Road” by Giles Winter

Sir Tim Rice

has written an awful lot of lyrics for memorable songs for musicals and films! The only Judge for this competition who has had his very own entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica!
  • Purchase Prize £5,000 - “Minute three” by Nina Murdoch 4/51
  • Chair's Purchase Prize £1,000 - “Nowhere Pond” by Lara Cobden 4/15
  • Meynell Fenton Prize - £1,000 - “Untitled (Kiyohime)” by Andrew Holmes 4/37
  • Humphreys Purchase Prize - £750 - “Through the field” by Lucy Marks 4/41
  • DE Sculpture and 3D Work Prize - £250 - “Saved from the Fire II” by Sue Navin 4/55
  • Parker Harris Prize - mentoring session - “Recliner 1” by Mark Entwisle 4/22

Number of works: 89 artworks by 53 artists of which 10 had multiple works  34 are INVITED artists i.e. 55 from the open (62%)

Value of cash prizes awarded to his selection: £8,000 - making Sir Tim the top winner in the exhibition!

About half of Tim Rice's wall of artwork

You could tell that this was somebody who was a proper collector who knew what he liked (pink!) and consequently the exhibition flowed despite its diverse content. 

It also had a very fresh and contemporary feel. 

I also like that he had the biggest exhibition and that half the exhibition came from artists who had just one work in the exhibition he had selected nearly two third of his exhibition from the open entry.

[Isn't it interesting that it's the two collectors who have the highest percentage of their exhibit from the open entry - 85% and 62% respectively?]

More artwork - including the Nina Murdoch series

ING PURCHASE PRIZE £5,000“Minute three” by Nina Murdoch

It was interesting to see who he had invited. I've met three of them!
  • Nina Murdoch - who won the very first Threadneedle Prize 11 years ago with a sensational painting (which I picked as the winner at the press view!). Her win of the top prize in this exhibition was not dissimilar in content although much smaller in size.  Interestingly she now seems to be exhibiting artwork generally which is much smaller than she used to paint. However what struck me is that she walked away with £30,000 from two visits to the Mall Galleries 11 years apart!
  • Lisa Wright is another Threadneedle Winner - in 2013!
  • Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf is the Vice President of the Society of Women Artists and has won major cash prizes as part of the annual exhibitions of that society
However whereas it's great to see some series of (say) 6 by some artists, I couldn't say the same for every invited artist in all 6 exhibits everyone across the exhibition as a whole

It just feels a lot more interesting as an exhibition when 
  • work is DIFFERENT and 
  • series are limited to two or three!

A lot of variation in the figure works on Tim Rice's walls - and nice to see an exhibit of just three!
Spot this tiny horse bottom left in the above pic.

DE Sculpture and 3D Work Prize - £250 “Saved from the Fire II” by Sue Navin
More Nocturnes paintings of houses at night - by two different artists - two of which of which are by Giles Winter - the same artist who won a prize in Kwame's section

houses at night by Giles Winter and Francesca Conti


John Penrose 

served as Chairman of the Discerning Eye from 2007–2018. Better known to some as Mr Anne Robinson - before they divorced. Spent a lot of years and money collecting and dealing in antiques and used to have a gallery - which is now closed. Not entirely clear what criteria gets him into the 'Critics" category.
  • Founder's Purchase Prize (in honour of Michael Reynolds) £2,500 - “Evening Light in the Snow” by Thomas Lamb 5/39
  • Wright Purchase Prize - £500 - “EbbTide ” by David Brayne 5/6
  • Midlands Regional Prize - £250 - “Evening Light in the Snow” by Thomas Lamb 5/39

Number of works: 68 artworks by 36 artists of which 13 had multiple works 32 are INVITED artists i.e. 36 from the open (53%)

This exhibition had the benefit of being hung in the North Gallery which made it feel a lot more like a gallery exhibition - for the only person among the selectors who had previously owned a Gallery.

It came across as a little traditional - but a nice mix of figurative and abstracts which are pleasing to the eye.

It was the only exhibition where I knew the selector had an eye and knew how to use it.

An interesting mix of small works by five different artists

Louis Wise

a freelance journalist who also judges the Sunday Times Watercolour competition which seems to be a throwback to the days when he used to work for the Sunday Times. His focus is on the "Arts" rather than art.
  • no prizes - and I'm not surprised!

Number of works: 65 artworks by 30 artists of which 12 had multiple works 42 are INVITED artists i.e. 23 from the open (35%)

To be frank this exhibition looked very colourful, very cramped and a bit of a visual mess.  In part this was because I couldn't attune at all to an eye which likes so much diverse work and colours

If you were being polite you'd call it eclectic.

If you were awarding prizes you'd find it difficult to find one piece which stood out.  Which I guess is why it has no prizes - although I don't know when these were chosen - whether before or after hanging.

His piece in the catalogue describing the process goes on at length about the difficulties of knowing whether you are qualified to curate and the agonies of knowing what to choose.
Do I actually have an eye? And more to the point, is it Discerning?
You sympathise - until you review the artwork listed and realise that only a third of the exhibition is from the open. For the rest he chose:
  • previous prizewinners of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition (like that was hard work!) - who did not jump out as winners on these walls
  • people he obviously knew well - otherwise how do you account for three artists all having the same surname?
I honestly concluded that I don't think Louis Wise has any interest in art - and that his involvement in the STWC  is down to some misunderstanding on the part of 'somebody' that "Arts" does not equate to "Art".

My eye got lost when attempting to travel across the hang

More about the ING Discerning Eye

The Discerning Eye website maintains an archive.
The following are all posts about the ING Discerning Eye competition/exhibition on Making A Mark over the last 11 years.


There is no statement in the catalogue or on the website about how many artists and how many works are from the open entry - making it impossible to know whether this is a juried exhibition worth entering.
In the 2018 exhibition 78% of the artists and 63% of the works are from the open submission. Painting and drawing make up over 47% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 30%, printmaking about 13%, and photography and film about 10% this year.

The 2017 exhibition comprised 465 works by 237 artists. 75% of the artists and 55% of the works are from the open submission. Painting and drawing make up over 60% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 15%, printmaking a further 8%, and photography about 5% this year.

The 2016 exhibition comprises over 700 works by over 400 artists. 70% of the artists and 60% of the works are from the open submission. Painting and drawing make up about 70% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 13%, printmaking a further 7%, and photography about 5% this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED AGAIN due to very silly ignorant people who leave spam comments without realising they have no benefit for them.

Please feel free to comment on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there (but please note anonymous comments are not published and I block and report spammers to Google and on Facebook)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.