Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cons and Pros of ING Discerning Eye Exhibition's tech makeover

I visited the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2021 at the Mall Galleries today (after my hip hiatus last week) and left rather sooner than I expected to because It made me feel VERY irritated.

I'm going to deal with the technological changes associated with this exhibition in this post and may write another one about the exhibition itself. These are:

  • QR Codes as the ONLY wall labels
  • new website - with some significant omissions

This is the toned down edited version - which will tell you a lot.

I'm also going to comment on the technological change associated with the website - which is much more of a good news story - but with a big sting in the tail....

But first the really bad news....

QR Codes only as labels - and absolutely nothing else!

The ONLY labels on the wall are QR codes i.e. 

  • No artists name next to their work
    • I'd hazard a well-informed guess that this is completely unacceptable to most artists.
    • If the organisers knew they were going to do this then they should have stated their intentions in the Call for Entries
  • No printed catalogue of which more below....

This is what I wrote on my Facebook Page after having made my way past maybe a dozen artworks in the East Gallery which I visited first

I think if I was an artist who had submitted my artwork to this exhibition - and had been selected by one of the Selectors - I would be very seriously dischuffed.

  • no profile for me as an artist which is plain to see
  • less chance of selling my work
  • less chance of being noticed by art gallery owners who visit exhibitions like these looking for new talent.
Don't get me wrong. I am NOT against 

  • EITHER the use of new technology
  • OR the intelligent use of QR codes to enhance the viewing experience 
As an ex senior manager who has been responsible for and managed the large scale implementation of new technology solutions in the workplace in the past, what I am VERY averse to is:
  • poor communication - to both artists and visitors
  • no scope for feedback from those who experience the "experiment" e.g. "how did you find our use of QR codes?"
  • poor project management e.g. a rollout without beta testing which fails to identify issues which need resolving (i.e. provide a good customer experience - based on what those using the system think not what those responsible for implementing it think!)

The Issues

Some of the technological issues are:

Broadband / Wifi

  • Broadband is not good in the Galleries - patchy at best and totally absent from the North Gallery
  • Hence visitors have to use the Gallery wifi system - which means opening up their phones to a public wifi system i.e. that thing you are warned against doing and I never ever do! Who is liable if somebody gets scammed as a result of using public wifi - because some scammer will find out it's available....
Good luck with finding out anything about these pieces in the North Gallery
- where there is no secure broadband - just public wifi


  • Not everybody has a smartphone 
  • Not everybody has a smartphone which can recognise QR codes

Communication on paper

  • There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on the wall which tells you the name of the artwork; the name of the artist, media used and price
  • Some extremely tatty, unlaminated - and hence not clean -  bunches of paper at the front desk for those with no phones is dire beyond belief and in absolutely no way a good substitute for proper labels! 
    • Which bit of Covid Best Practice do the organisers of this competition think this complies with? Or didn't they think?

Bottom Line

I walked out because I wasn't enjoying the exhibition. 

Here's the reasons why:
  • I really dislike exhibitions organisers who think everybody who visits are "smart young things who have the latest phone. I'd hazard a guess that the average age of many of the people visiting the Mall Galleries - and buying artwork - is 55+
  • I intensely dislike spending time trying to get technology to work when I actually want to be spending my time looking at the art and learning about new artists 
  • I refuse to make my iPhone accessible via use of public wifi system - which makes a lot of info about the artwork in the exhibition inaccessible
  • If using a QR code use it to add value not as a substitute for basics! e.g. 
    • by telling us more about the artwork and/or the artist
The codes are a great use of technology ( in an ideal environment) but , in addition to the usual printed artists name and information. The majority of visitors will use a catalogue or take note of the names of artists whose work catches their eye . Using the code is time consuming for visitors and in practical terms, a drain on phone battery when reading and watching several artist videos . The option to read the code is excellent for the works which a viewer might want some more information about. Choice would be appreciated comment by a Facebook reader (my underlining)
    • using it as a BUY NOW button - having already provided the information people need on the wall
Who's going to bother scanning more than a handful of codes? Now if it were a "buy now" link alongside the usual info .. another comment by another artist
    • DO NOT USE IT to focus on the following - which obliterates most other info. I don't need to see it to find out more about the artwork!
Works will be available to collect (if this is the delivery method you have chosen) from the Mall Galleries, via the entrance at 17 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5BD, on Wednesday 24th or Thursday 25th November 2021 between 10am and 5pm. If you cannot collect on this day please contact the Mall Galleries on 02079306844 to arrange an alternative collection day. If you have purchased an unframed print this will be posted to you shortly after the exhibition has closed, or if you have purchased a sculpture edition we will contact you about collection after the exhibition has closed. If you have chosen home delivery the work will be delivered to you shortly after the exhibition has closed. the focus of what you see - again and again and again every time you look at a QR code response
  • I like finding out about new artists - I want to see the names of the artists ON THE WALL next to the artwork.
  • Not being able to see a price means I am not tempted to buy art. Period. 
  • There is absolutely no indication of the Prizewinners on the wall. I have no idea who they are. Is that the intended experience for those visiting the exhibition?
There are two Prizes without Notice in this photo
and no acknowledgement of artist winning the award!!!

I've had issues with ING Discerning Eye before re. their insistence on just numbering pics on the wall so that I had to walk around constantly thumbing through the catalogue.

This year there is no catalogue - it's replaced by this complete joke in terms of communication.

My current feeling is that if this is the level of disregard that ING Discerning Eye and its organisers have for artists then I shan't be paying any attention to this open exhibition in future on this blog.
I nearly entered this year, and am glad now that I didn’t. I am no luddite but I have never used a QR code, and would definitely not appreciate being expected to do as a visitor. And as an artist I absolutely expect my name to be displayed with my art. an artist commenting on my FB post

The Catalogue

All exhibiting artists will be included in a fully illustrated print catalogue.

I didn't see a catalogue.

Indeed, why on earth would you have these at the front desk - in the space where I usually collect my catalogue - if there was a catalogue available

Very tatty, well thumbed price lists - when infection rates are rising again
- which were not going to get touched by me!

If there is no catalogue - and no communication about the artist on the wall - and I'd had work selected, I think I might be asking for my entry fee back on the basis of inaccurate information and the rules on advertising. (see Marketing and advertising: the law - on the Government's website) and in particular the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) - which is the rule book for non-broadcast advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing communications (marketing communications).

New website

On the plus side, this art competition / exhibition now has a new website. Which is good - until I started to test it out......

This suggests to me that, following a change at the top of the organisation, that maybe there's a feeling that there could be a different / better way of doing things.

That's no bad thing - so long as everything is implemented well.

What's good about the website is:

  • bigger "thumbnails" for artwork
  • artwork can be viewed easily by selector
  • artwork can be viewed in terms of the price band an art collector is prepared to pay

  • the MAJOR OMISSION is if you like the artwork by one artist - and want to see what else they have done you can't - because there is no filter for the artists i.e. 
    • the artists are not listed in the exhibition on the website (just the really important people - the selectors!!)
    • there is no way of tracing all the works one artist has produced unless you try the media route. That's because it's not uncommon for artwork to be split across different selectors if it arrived via the open entry
    • there is no alternative i.e. the Mall Galleries website has no record of the works in the exhibition
  • the Framed / unframed filter makes absolutely no sense at all - and is unexplained
I'm afraid I come back to the notion that the artist is very small fry in ranking terms in this exhibition.

I guess the only upside is that both artists selected via the open entry and those invited by the selectors have been treated equally badly. At last some equity!

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