The ING Discerning Eye
Exhibition and Prize 2021
On 17 November, the ArtULTRA team visited the ING Discerning Eye Prize at the Mall Galleries in London. The exhibition closed to the public on 21 November, but it continues online until 31 December 2021.
Let's begin with an overview of the prize and exhibition. The annual exhibition and prize are managed by art consultancy Parker Harris and are sponsored by Dutch global banking giant ING. The call for entries takes place in late summer; for the 2021 edition, the deadline for submission was in early September. Artists may submit more than one artwork (more than one may be selected) and these should be smaller, domestic-scale work, easy to hang at home. To submit, artists must be based in the UK and the work must be for sale. A sales commission of 40% is charged based on the price paid for work or any work commissioned at the exhibition or as a result of introduction by The Discerning Eye. The price of artworks on sale, ranges widely, from £5,000+ to some as affordable as £50. A jury selects the entries for the exhibition and the prize winners. This year the six the judges were Anna Brady, Peter Brown PNEAC, Roland Cowan, Adelaide Damoah, Tony Humphreys and Russell Tovey.
The 2021 exhibition at the Mall Galleries was organised around each selector, dividing the gallery walls into large spaces for each selector to curate; an unusual curatorial decision that seemed to lay the emphasis on the jury rather than on the artists. It also meant that artists who appeared in more than one section had to have their work displayed in a fragmented way. It could have been more interesting to group works around loose themes for viewers to orientate themselves and lend the works more impact.
There were a few other things we thought were missing from the exhibition: firstly, a little intro panel informing visitors about the exhibition and prize was needed. We wanted to know more about the selectors, and what their individual vision was for their respective displays. There was, admittedly, a panel placed at the end of the visit (we would have preferred it at the start), but it gave little information about the Discerning Eye ethos and the selectors. A glaring omission was the mention of the winning artists. There were 18 prize winners this year, ranging from the ING Purchase Prize (£5,000) to the regional prizes (£250 each) and bursary (which is in fact the only award highlighted in the exhibition). We wanted to know who the winners were, either with labels within the actual display, or with a panel at the end of the exhibition. It is a real achievement for artists to be selected as exhibition entries, but it’s also amazing to be named a prize winner – so why not celebrate it more obviously?
Still, overall the huge variety of artists and subject matter made for a very engaging exhibition, with salon-style hanging and bold eclecticism akin to that of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The familiar medium of painting dominated, but there were also some unusual, refreshing formats, such as Henrietta MacPhee’s Decollage dans le Metro ceramic works, or Rachel Ara’s playful hanging sculpture The Dyslexic Feminist made from artificial lawn, or the still life of dangerously overloaded plug-sockets by Callum Eaton. We were particularly struck by Jack Warne’s Culy Dan A Sergtan Cnigdan: an interactive painting with beautiful abstract animation activated when your phone’s camera detected the work’s surface.
Although we would have loved a more thematic hanging and more information about individual pieces, the overall range of work and the richness of the display make for an enjoyable exhibition. We hope that the ING curatorial team will consider adding a little bit more information in the display next time, and that future winners of the various prizes are given more visibility.
Henrietta MacPhee, Decollage dans le Metro
Rachel Ara, The Dyslexic Feminist
The Other Art Fair,
London October 2021
In mid-October, the ArtULTRA team headed to The Other Art Fair’s private view to enjoy wonderful art, meet emerging artists in person, and scope out how useful and commercially viable artist-led fairs can be. We joined the flock of viewers meandering through the Old Truman Brewery in the east end of London, spoke to many artists and picked up a few insights on the merits of The Other Art Fair, which we share here. The Other Art Fair showcases artists who aren’t represented by galleries, and as such gathers a variety of profiles, art forms, styles and media. Some of the artists we chatted to had trained professionally at art school or even taught at art schools, whilst others had given up more lucrative jobs as software engineers or bankers and taken up their artistic practice later on in life.
A few artists we spoke to were veterans (we are talking 10 years+) of The Other Art Fair, and found that it provided them with the right environment to sell their work, justifying the price of hiring a stand. Others, who were new to the fair, found the rental of the stand (c.£2,000 plus transport and framing) plus the fair's 15% commission on sales was a slightly daunting experiment. Depending on an individual artist's price points, breaking even would require selling around 5 prints at £100 each, 2 small works at £500 and one larger piece at £1,500 over the four days of the fair.
Despite the challenge of covering costs, many artists reported that The Other Art Fair was useful in providing a platform for their work to be seen, and to forge relationships with potential buyers. Just on opening night, one artist beamed that she had just sold a £1,000 artwork to a couple she had never met before! By meeting their buyers in person, artists gain a better knowledge of their market, of who their work appeals to. “Seeing how other artists displayed works on their stands and engaged with potential clients can be really interesting,” an artist explained, motioning to the various conversations going on around us. “It can be informative and can give you new ideas, even if the selling is a bit hit and miss.”
In short, it seemed that art fairs such as this can offer real opportunities for artists: they provide that much-needed exposure, and a good chance of selling work. Importantly, The Other Art Fair offers the opportunity for artists and art-lovers to meet face-to-face and become more familiar. For artists who developed a successful online presence during the pandemic, the fair meant being able to finally meet their audience in person. The fair’s informal atmosphere is key, too: it makes artists feel confident to approach buyers, and in turn gives buyers the chance to ask artist questions about their process and thinking. Art fairs help to put names to faces - which in the long-run helps to build lasting relationships with clients.