Dame Stephanie Shirley
Charles Saumarez Smith
As I write the introduction for this year's ING Discerning Eye Exhibition, it is a bitter-sweet moment: on the one hand, it is my last year as Chairman, a role I have been proud to hold. Our sponsors ING, Tony Humphreys and his management, Parker Harris and many wonderful selectors, and of course friends and supporters have made my time as Chairman very easy. They have also been responsible for putting the Exhibition and the Charity in a very strong position.
On the other hand, I hand over to a new Chairman, a friend, and long term supporter of Discerning Eye, John Penrose. The Discerning Eye will be in good hands. I also look forward to being a selector next year using my own discerning eye and seeing the exhibition from a different perspective.
So, thanks to everyone involved in this year's exhibition for all their hard work. I hope all enjoy this wonderful, unique showcase for small works.
Robert J Benton
I would like to welcome you all to the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2007 and also use the opportunity to say a fond farewell to our retiring Chairman Bob Benton and welcome to our new Chairman John Penrose.
Bob has been a long time supporter of Discerning Eye. He first became involved as a sponsor after I had approached him and his then company to get involved in a year when there was no sponsor and the exhibition was in serious danger of not happening. Since then Bob has been involved on various levels and I am pleased to say Discerning Eye has gone from strength to strength.
When Bob became Chairman, the then retiring Chairman John Caine MBE was invited to became a selector the following year. John really enjoyed the experience and I am pleased to say that Bob has already accepted an invitation to be one of the selectors for next year. Once was a good idea, twice makes it a tradition we are delighted to put in place for future Chairman including you one day Mr Penrose!
On that note, I would like to welcome John who I know will be a great asset to Discerning Eye.
I hope everybody, DE stalwarts and newcomers, enjoy the exhibition this year and for many to come.
Chairman Elect’s Statement
When I was first invited to a ING Discerning Eye Exhibition five years ago I felt immediately at home. The mix and variety of work on show, I thought, reflected my personal taste, which can best be described as wide-ranging.
This is what appeals so much to me about the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition: it presents the work of artists, both unknown and the established, working in every discipline, in all styles and at varying levels of execution, to the widest of audiences. The work can be challenging, but essentially it is engaging, accessible and affordable. Something, it has been said, for everyone. Importantly, the art on show is domestic in scale. No installations here to be dismantled and stored in a warehouse awaiting a second airing, but art to be taken home and hung on the wall.
This is no accident. Inviting open submissions from all-comers, and then asking six eminent but diverse art lovers - artists, collectors and critics - to make their individual selections, inevitably guarantees the greatest possible choice of the submitted work. No committee decisions here: every submitting artist gets a decent chance of a showing.
The choice of selectors promises eclectic and, sometimes, eccentric decisions. Some ninety of them have sifted through perhaps more than 45,000 works of art in the past seventeen years. In previous years the Mall Galleries have seen selectors as varied as A.S.Byatt and Richard Littlejohn, The Marquess of Bath and Anne Robinson, and, this year, Charles Saumarez Smith and Davina McCall.
Asking the selectors to invite established artists to show adds yet another dimension to the exhibition: over the years the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition has seen contributions from among others sculptor Peter Randall-Page, Graham Crowley and Albert Irvin RA. HRH The Prince of Wales has been both a selector and an invited exhibitor (twice), this year exhibiting by invitation of selector Sarah Armstrong-Jones.
The winners are, of course, all the artists selected for exhibition, not just those taking the prizes.
The founding principle of The Discerning Eye was to encourage a wider understanding and appreciation of the visual arts...to stimulate debate about the place and purpose of art... and the contribution each one of us can make to its development.
I believe Chief Executive Tony Humphreys and outgoing Chairman Robert Benton have met these objectives with admirable success. I am honoured that I have been asked to take over from Bob as Chairman and I look forward to working with The Discerning Eye on behalf of all artists and lovers of art.
The annual ING Discerning Eye Selectors' lunch was held recently at ING's London offices. The lunch takes place shortly after the selectors have spent two long days at the Mall Galleries choosing their favourites from the 2,300 works submitted by artists from all over the UK.
It is very pleasing that nine years into our relationship with Discerning Eye, the stories surrounding the build up to the exhibition and the experiences of the all-important selectors are as fresh and interesting as ever. We were encouraged to hear that the works submitted were of a high standard and that the selectors have had such a positive response from their invited artists. This is all very promising and we look forward to seeing our selectors' choices on the wall.
The Discerning Eye, with its objectives of encouraging a wider understanding and appreciation of the visual arts and creating opportunities for artists, is a natural arts partner for ING. Our London office is home to one of the City's premier art collections, featuring work by artists such as LS Lowry, Sir Stanley Spencer and Samuel Palmer. We welcome numerous art interest groups to our offices throughout the year to see this collection. ING Group, headquartered in Amsterdam, has a collection of over 20,000 Dutch contemporary works of art. These credentials as a collector of fine art, both by established artists and from emerging contemporary names, are complemented by the active role ING plays in the art world as a major sponsor, for example of the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.
In London, ING's imaginative art programme seeks to develop opportunities for up-and-coming artists and to bring their work to the attention of new audiences. ING feels strongly that its own collection and art programme should be used to benefit the local community. In 2007, ING and the Baring Foundation are supporting Arts for All, a community arts centre based in Shoreditch, East London. The centre's motto is 'Building Confidence through Creativity' and we look forward to showing work by children who attend the centre at our offices in December 2007.
Sponsoring The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition is a natural extension of our involvement with the arts. For artists in the process of stablishing their careers, the exhibition creates a forum to display work alongside internationally recognised names and the opportunity to sell in an exhibition freely accessible to the general public. For the audience, the exhibition provides a unique opportunity to view, and perhaps buy, work in a wonderful range of styles from a wide range of artists; work that is domestic in scale and reasonably priced.
ING thanks the selectors, the artists, the Discerning Eye and the Parker Harris Partnership for all their efforts in 2007. It just remains for me to thank Bob Benton, in his final year as Chair of Discerning Eye, for his commitment to the charity, and to say how much we are looking forward to working with his successor John Penrose in 2008.
John Howland Jackson CEO
ING UK & Ireland
ING Wholesale Banking is one of the six business divisions of ING Group and is responsible for providing a range of services to ING's corporate and institutional client base. In the UK, ING Group also provides direct savings banking through ING Direct; car and general leasing; and real estate financing, development, and investment management. As of June 2007, ING ranks as the 7th largest European financial institution by market value and the 13th largest globally. The Group has offices in more than 50 countries and over 120,000 employees.
Selector Profile: Sarah Armstrong-Jones
The Discerning Eye is a very special exhibition. Not only is it unusual in showcasing small works, it's also unique among juried exhibitions in forcing its selectors to stand up for their personal taste. There's none of the usual horse-trading or responsibility shirking – you each get a wall and a spotlight, and have to live with the consequences.
This is a very good thing, and there should be more of it. Too many public gallery shows of contemporary art are the outcome of selection by committee, and as Rodin rightly observed: "As soon as a few people, however intelligent or expert they may be, come together to judge works submitted to them, they will never agree on anything other than a totally neutral work." Art has always been a matter of personal taste; when it's handed down by authority from on high with proclamations of why we're supposed to like it, we lose the habit of exercising our judgment. A show like The Discerning Eye helps to keep us in trim.
In art, big isn't necessarily clever, nor is difficult necessarily good. I make no apology for the fact that in making my selection I wasn't looking for 'conceptual rigour' or any of the other rather punishing criteria one is meant to apply to post-modern art. I chose works because I liked them – and I liked them because they seemed to say something to me about the artist's experience of the world we live in. I hope they also say something to you, though I realise that what they say to you may be different. But if they speak at all they'll be giving a voice to the sorts of artists who – in our world of big noisy public art – are too seldom heard.
Selector Profile: Jennifer McRae
Painters I'm sure often covet but cannot always acquire works of art during their precarious lifetimes. Swapping is a possibility (certainly it's a treasured perk of the profession).
However, it's fun to pretend and I think that was a parallel in my train of thought during the open selection of the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition. "I must have it!" became my criteria – admittedly a dubiously unintellectual one – as a myriad of small and varied works passed before my eyes.
It was only after this intense and visually testing, experience, when I "came down" as it were, that I was struck with tbe realisation I owned no more than when I had sat down that morning armed with a double espresso. But I still felt that proprietary buzz; these paintings were "my" selection.
In the same ephemeral vein I felt a glowing pride in my list of selected artists. These are talented and independent people so taking pride in their artistic abilities borders on the ridiculous; and yet it was such a pleasure to put together this group. I felt so chuffed when each one said, "yes, I'll do it".
Special thanks to Pat Jordan Evans for hanging my selection.
Selector Profile: Davina McCall
When I was asked if I might be a selector for the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition my initial temptation was to say no. I collect art in my own small way and I am a great appreciator of art, but to sit along side five other highly regarded artists, collectors and critics sounded just too scary!
I am so glad now that 1 took that step out of my comfort zone. They weren't scary at all!
My choices were made in an instant. A painting had to grab me. I chose paintings that I would want at home which probably means this could end up costing me a small fortune as I shall want them all for myself. I have no more wall space for hanging, which means we shall either have to move or start rotating, which I like the idea of!
The artists I have invited I am really pleased with! They are all people I have admired, some I know personally, some I don't. I am really looking forward to putting it all together at the Mall Galleries. That will be a work of art in itself!
Selector Profile: Dame Stephanie Shirley
I thank ING for the most enjoyable experience of serving as one of the judges for the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition. My often difficult selection mirrors the Prior's Court collection of abstract, contemporary work built up since 1998.
Prior's Court is a residential school for pupils with autism who also have severe learning difficulties. It is centred on a glorious 18th century house set in 55 acres of park and woodland (now a sculpture trail). The collection was designed to meet the spiritual needs of its 58 very vulnerable pupils and the 260 staff. The art and craft (I dislike the distinction) are all inspirational, calm and serene rather than stimulating or challenging. Children with autism consistently favour the colour blue and the overall palette is subdued. My idea was to have beautiful things not just in the obvious places but also in washrooms, laundry and kitchen areas – places just as important as the formal spaces in a holistic environment.
People are amazed that originals should be displayed in a special school. But the non-material side of life is a basic human need and indeed human right – a necessary component of mental and physical health. I believe that the collection is not merely decorative (and sometimes educational) but has enormous therapeutic value. Children with autism learn visually, not aurally so it provides them with an extra channel of communication. A PhD study showed how the pupils (most of whom are non-verbal) respond in positive ways. As an entrepreneur, I prize innovation so am often attracted to the new, just because it is different. But quality and professionalism always win out with me.
My favourite artists contributed with enthusiasm to the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition; joined by others likely to become favourites and perhaps an academician of the future. Their joint creativity is infectious. Thank you, ING.
Selector Profile: Drusilla Beyfus
One way of deciding on artists to select for my hang would have been to stay only with those whom I would like to collect, or who have acquired. But that excluded too many possible choices. So I've combined those who light my personal fire and those whose work I admire in a more detached way and would like to draw attention to.
I invited twenty-six artists to participate, the outcome of which was four no replies, seven regrets and fifteen acceptances with an offer of forty-eight works. My invitees chose what they wished to exhibit, within the guidelines. From the open submission of close on two and a half thousand works I selected a further forty-eight exhibits, bearing in mind the recommended number for my hang.
Selecting from such a large number of art works - painting, drawing, photography and sculpture - is not only eye-popping but tempts one to generalise.
Artists still love the act of painting. True, much of the work submitted struck me as closer to craftsmanship than to a creative process, but the dedication demonstrated was genuine and affecting. Artists continue to try to realise the world around them in a recognisable way. They still like to depict subjects they have always painted, often whatever or whoever is near and clear. But among the timeless subjects, were portrayals of hoodies, consumerism's effect on childhood, neglected old age, and the strange beauty of urban wastelands.
Non-figurative efforts more than held their own numerically, suggesting that the artistic community in this country has long shed any reservations about the aesthetic validity of abstraction. These exhibits had the selectors including myself, competing hard for choices for their own display.
Small works! It was an education to me to see artists making a positive force out of a limitation on size (a rule of entry is that no work may be bigger than twenty inches).
Surely art school courses were reflected in the confidence shown in the best of the sculpture. An eclectic range of materials were worked such as bronze, marble, wood, ceramic, knitting, feathers, Perspex, glass and bone and others. And sculptors drew for inspiration on architecture, ethnography, animalism, surrealism and modernism as well as on more classical themes.
If there is a message it is that some pretty good stuff exists for the selective eye.
Selector Profile: Charles Saumarez Smith
I have always enjoyed the process of choosing works of art without knowing who they are by: the equivalent of blind tasting of wine. One is compelled to judge works only by what they look like, not by their associations.
I found myself using one criterion only in my selection: that is, would I consider giving the work house room? This limited the choice to works which shared an aesthetic with the artists I had invited to submit, who consisted exclusively of those whose works I have bought in the past. I realised, which I should already have known, that I like works which are small-scale and of slightly indeterminate age, sometimes figurative, sometimes decorative, and that I have not lost an interest in the English realist tradition and in portraiture after years of choosing works for the BP Portrait Award.