Emma Stibbon RA
Dr Giles Brown
Frequent visitors to the ING Discerning Eye exhibition will know that the selection process used to determine which work is shown is unique. For those new to the show it is worth detailing again how the event works. The artwork selected for display is chosen not by committee as in other open submission competitions but by six individuals, each a noted authority in their field. Two artists, two critics and two collectors form the selection panel.
Since the founding of Discerning Eye more than one hundred and thirty five selectors - Royal Academicians, leading critics and noted collectors - have given their unpaid support. They have included HRH Prince Charles - who in 1997 was invited to take part as a collector but who easily might have been described as an artist or critic - Big Brother presenter Davina McCall, chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson and Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, Charles Saumarez Smith CBE. All have contributed time, effort and enthusiasm to help make Discerning Eye the success it has become. I do suggest you take a look at the list of past selectors in this catalogue. It is pretty impressive.
My thanks, therefore, to those who have stepped into the breach this year: artists Nicola Green and Emma Stibbon RA; critics Simon Martin, writer, curator, Artistic Director of Pallant House Gallery and Helen Sumpter, Senior Editor at ArtReview; collectors Chris Ingram, entrepreneur, philanthropist, owner of The Ingram Collection of Modern and British Contemporary Art and Dr Giles Brown, scientist, collector and art patron.
These hardy souls toiled for hours in a subterranean room, examining, dismissing and, sometimes, accepting work for show. They wrote contributions to this catalogue, oversaw the hanging - not an easy job - of their choices and, for those who could make it, attended the private view.
This year our selectors viewed more than 2,000 submissions. They selected work by 273 artists and invited 48 artists of their own choice to exhibit. In all more than 650 pieces are on show, representing the work of 321 artists.
My thanks to them, our artists, our exhibition organisers Parker Harris, to the Mall Galleries and, of course, to our sponsors ING Commercial Banking, without whom this show would not be possible.
Welcome to the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2014, our twenty-third annual exhibition since the Discerning Eye charity was started twenty-five years ago.
Regular visitors will know that in recent years we have awarded Discerning Eye funded purchase prizes in order to acquire works for our own DE Collection. The aim of creating a collection is to make it available to galleries and other public spaces around Britain at minimal cost and to find a wider audience for artists whose work is included.
We currently have about twenty works but that number will be increased by the end of November in order to mount our inaugural exhibition which, we are delighted to confirm, will open early in December 2014 in one of Britain's most historic and beautiful buildings.
The Temple Church dates back to 1162 with its Round Church, where our exhibition will take place, being the earliest Gothic building in England. Built by the Knights Templar, bankers and diplomatic brokers to successive kings, King John was given protection here during the buildup to Magna Carta.
The inaugural DE Collection exhibition will form part of the Temple Church's 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and will be on show to the public until Easter 2015 (exact dates tbc). If you have never visited the church, this offers a perfect opportunity to do so. Until recently, I had only ever seen the inside in famous films like The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter. Having now visited in person, I can highly recommend it as a hidden gem in the heart of London. I would like to thank art lover and collector Ian Mayes QC for his support in accessing such an important and historic venue for us.
Ian has also very kindly offered to give our Friends and Members a guided tour of Temple, including Middle Temple Hall, which has its own rich history from a later period. You can find more information in our latest newsletter.
Inspired by Temple Church's anniversary of Magna Carta this year we have given our drawing bursary the theme of Justice. As usual, the winning drawings are on show at this exhibition.
Later in this catalogue, we have re-introduced the DE essay. I would like to thank art historian, archivist and Director of Messum's Andrea Gates for this essay and hope you will find time to read it.
Finally, I would like to thank our sponsor ING Commercial Banking, our selectors, artists, Parker Harris, and everybody else who supports DE to make this event the success it is.
Enjoy the show.
The 2014 exhibition comprises 659 works -
84% of the artists and 66% of the works were from the open submission
THE 2014 DE ESSAY BY ANDREA GATES
When I was asked to write a few words for this year's catalogue, I felt honoured, but wondered what I could contribute to such an established, yet eclectic forum for making, presenting and appreciating art. I trained as an art historian, and as archivist for a gallery specialising in British art, I regularly research and catalogue anything from Romantic landscapes to abstract expressionist sculptures. But I probably spend most of my time interviewing contemporary artists and writing catalogue essays. This is one of the great joys of my job because I get to meet talented, generous, usually fascinating people and learn about how and why they make unique objects.
Some artists are their own best spokesmen, so much so that I need only do some basic research, listen closely, not ask too many inane questions, write it up and then spell-check. Other artists pose more of a challenge because they are reticent to the point of opacity. Sometimes words simply fail them but, in most cases, this reserve stems from their reluctance to be labelled according to their background, technique, forebears, etc. So I respect their reticence and weigh any advantage of coaxing information out of them against compromising their privacy or authorship of their own backstory. Finally, there are those rare cases where, for whatever reason, the artist is an unreliable narrator, making it difficult to present their work and identity in any useful context that respects both. This is when I remember what one of my favourite professors once told me: “Don't worry about what an artist did or didn't say. Look at their work. It will always tell you what they can't.”
So, faced with a lack of available biography or technical insights, I shift my focus to the actual form of the artist's work. Admittedly, my description might be more dry and objective than I would like, but at least I avoid projecting emotions or motives onto the artist or their work that might be irrelevant. If I am lucky, I may also signpost one or two paths towards how others can arrive at their own appreciation of that artist's work.
On a more practical level, when I began working as an auction specialist and was often out of my depth, formal analysis was more than a tool; it was my lifebuoy. Many times, not only did I not know what I was looking at, I didn't even know what books to consult (and Google was still years away!). So, I often judged a work's authenticity or quality based on a gut-reaction. After months of dealing with my misattributions and gaffes, a senior specialist taught me a trick: turn the work upside-down. As he explained, artists begin an original composition by working from or towards the centre of a whole, whereas copyists simply draw from the top down. Inverting the sheet helps reveal this imbalance. This little trick saved me from many an embarrassing consultation with senior experts, and I am still grateful to him.
Thankfully, access to objects, collections, libraries and the generosity of certain colleagues who have forgotten more about art than I will ever learn, has taught me a thing or two. However, I still use formal analysis to make sense of art because, like mathematics, it is constant. Time and geography cannot actually change line, shape, colour, texture, scale, or space; they only affect the subjective terms we use to describe them. And as art historical methodologies go, formal analysis is pretty egalitarian. It requires no specialist knowledge, no second languages, it merely asks that we take time to look, and then ask how, why and for whom an artwork was made; what was included, excluded, emphasised or obscured? In other words, what choices did the artist make (voluntarily or otherwise) and how do these affect how we see their work?
Approaching these questions from a slightly different angle, Ossian Ward's new book Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, provides a self-help guide for people who want to engage with art on their own terms. With wit and common sense, Ward outlines a six-step plan for 'understanding' contemporary art, and because he understands how deeply the information age informs our thought processes, uses lists and mnemonics to make his case. In a nutshell, he advises gallery and museum-goers to free their minds from received wisdom and 'art-guff' in order to achieve a clean mental slate. He then suggests that they give themselves Time to look at an art work; find personal Associations with it; acknowledge its Background; attempt to Understand it; take another Look; and finally, make their own Assessment: TABULA [rasa].
By the way, there are few more effective mental palate-cleansers for viewing art than taking a child to Tate Modern. Some of the most fun I have ever had is joining wits with a child to make head or tail of whatever is on view because children see art in its own right, perhaps because nothing else stands in the way of their experience.
Earlier this year, in one of his wonderful Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry (possibly the only person alive who can make Radio 4 a visual experience) discussed the pitfalls most people face when trying to appreciate art. Among many valuable observations, Perry pointed out the frustrating discrepancy between popularity and quality and how it affects both the art world and its market; how the two concepts are inherently opposed and can cancel each other out. Beauty is not democratic because, as Perry said: “democracy has bad taste” (an opinion confirmed by the Frankenstein photo mock-ups of 'ideal women' that regularly litter free newspapers).
He actually cautioned against using the word beauty to describe art because it can suggest elitism, sexism, even colonialism, and he demurred from pronouncing on either beauty or quality precisely because they are subjective ideas. In fact, many of Perry's observations about the art world, its market and the public's fascination with both acknowledge the role of subjectivity and its pros and cons.
My own ideas of artistic quality and beauty were shaped by the theories of the Vienna School and, in particular, the writings of Wölfflin and Gombrich and, admittedly, these concepts remain pretty ingrained. This aside, I believe that people can and should decide for themselves whether an artwork has merit and deserves their attention. I still see formal analysis as a touchstone for artistic quality (read: coherence) but for me, a work of art has merit if, every time I see it, no matter how often, I still notice it as if for the first time.
Although I am no critic, and often what I write is not strictly art history either, most of my job consists of writing about art. And since writing on any subject requires a lot of reading, I have become increasingly aware of how much art writing has changed since the rise of the Internet. For example, there are now countless blogs that approach the subject from different perspectives and levels of expertise and since the Internet is a democracy, absolutely anyone can voice opinions on art. On the face of it, this is no bad thing. (Although I hope the trend for using art as a psychological mirror - i.e. 'art as therapy' - soon dies a discreet death). What is more, the Internet and its wider opportunities encourage subjectivity, which has its merits: much of what the public reads about art trades in various levels of subjectivity. At its worst, subjectivity is mere bias, but at its best, it can encourage empathy, invite opinion and debate; it can open a door to engagement.
Sometimes, I am asked whether I like everything I write about (and, for the record, the answer is in the question: if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be able to write about it). But this question and its implications give me a vague idea of the huge challenge The Discerning Eye selectors must face every year. Putting six accomplished professionals in the same room with seemingly countless artworks and then asking them to declare taste must spark a level of engagement and debate few artists could expect from just hanging their work on a gallery wall. At times, I wonder if this selection process supports Gombrich's claim (and I am paraphrasing wildly here) that those who pronounce on art are like the Gauls: united in purpose, but divided into three overlapping, sometimes opposing, but not necessarily hostile camps.
Regardless of how they may have arrived at their respective selections, their achievement in curating this year's exhibition, and above all, the remarkable pool of British talent from which they drew, reinforce Ruskin's conviction that all of us - artist, critic, collector and member of the public alike - possess the power of a discerning eye, each shaped and educated by our unique experiences, tastes and perhaps, our shared hope for a visual record.
ING Gerald Walker introduces the 2014 exhibition
ING is delighted to be sponsoring the Discerning Eye Exhibition once again in 2014. This is the 16th year of ING's collaboration with the charity. Ours is one of the longest running partnerships of its kind in the UK and we are very pleased to have seen the Discerning Eye go from strength to strength in that time.
ING's broader commitment to the arts can be traced back somewhat further - this year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the ING Art Collection. In the 1970s, ING (then NMB) was one of the first Dutch corporates to begin collecting art. Later, local collections were acquired from predecessor firms including BBL in Belgium and Barings here in the UK. Today, around 15,000 works of art elevate and enhance some 550 ING offices worldwide.
When ING and its predecessors began collecting art, the emphasis was on creating an inspiring working environment. Now, the management of our collections is firmly aligned with our corporate social responsibility agenda. To that end, this year's anniversary has been marked with a public exhibition entitled The Hidden Picture at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in the Netherlands, the first occasion on which highlights from all the ING collections have been brought together for everyone to enjoy.
In the UK, we seek to bring new audiences to our collection through loans to public galleries and tours for art interest groups. Visitors to our City of London offices continue to be surprised by the breadth of our collection that includes works by such artists as Sir Thomas Lawrence, Samuel Palmer and L S Lowry. Our visitors are equally enthralled by the selection of contemporary pieces we have acquired through our sponsorship of the Discerning Eye. The latest addition to that grouping was Jeremy Gardiner's artistic excavation of the West Country coastline, Pendeen Lighthouse, Cornwall. We look forward to seeing what this year's show has to offer.
ING thanks the selectors, the artists, Discerning Eye and the Parker Harris Partnership for all their efforts in preparing for the exhibition. All that remains is for me to wish the ING Discerning Eye 2014 Exhibition every success.
CEO, ING Commercial Banking UK, Ireland and Middle East
ING is a global financial institution of Dutch origin, currently offering banking, investment, life insurance (NN Group) and retirement services. We draw on our experience and expertise, our commitment to excellent service and our global scale to meet the needs of a broad customer base. ING Wholesale Banking is responsible for providing a range of services to ING's corporate and institutional clients.
Selector Profile: Nicola Green
I was delighted when asked to be a judge for this year's ING Discerning Eye. As a judge I am interested not just in the 'merits' of an artwork but the journey that artists go through and the confidence they need to develop in submitting their work in the first place. I love that Discerning Eye allows judges to pre-select a proportion of artists as this allows the possibility of a wider diversity of submissions.
I chose to focus on this by inviting young urban artists that have worked in my North London studio as well as artists working with underEXPOSED hosted by Eileen Perrier at University of Westminster in Partnership and with Mark Sealy at Autograph ABP. I wanted to curate a wall that concentrated on the theme of identity. I am especially interested in the narrative of young, underexposed and multi-cultural artists. Having such a specific focus was interesting in the judging process as it concentrated my mind on the artists themselves, where they might be from and what they were communicating to me in that context.
Selector Profile: Emma Stibbon RA
Being a selector for the ING Discerning Eye exhibition has been a pleasure and a privilege. The invitation to make a selection of work and to hang my own wall allowed me to make a choice of works based on personal preference. This is a unique situation. Having participated in the selection of other open submission exhibitions where one is usually expected to discern merit against a wider context, the Discerning Eye exhibition encourages the partiality of the selector. As a result, I have been able to be preferential in my choices, responding instinctively to works that spoke to me directly.
The breadth of work submitted was impressive and the standard was high. Some works communicated immediately, others were slower to reveal. The relatively small scale of the works invite an intimacy with the viewer and during the selection process we would often be out of our seats scrutinizing a delicate piece.
In making my selection of invited artists I decided to concentrate on individuals whose work I have followed and admired for many years. Once I had drawn up my list I was surprised to see a female bias. Looking at the gender breakdown of my selected artists I discovered there is also a majority of women present (it's worth noting that during the selection process we are not aware of the artists' identity). Irrespective of gender, I believe the works on display reveal new and unexpected ways of looking at the world. I hope that you, the viewer, share my pleasure.
Selector Profile: Chris Ingram
Historically, my real interest has been in Modern British Art. My Collection contains nearly 600 pieces of which over 450 are by Modern British artists such as Elisabeth Frink, Edward Burra and Henry Moore. Recently though, I have decided to expand into young and emerging talent - before the hype ruins them! When looking at the ING Discerning Eye submission rules I saw that the artists had to be living. Because, sadly, very few Modern British artists are still alive, it was a neat fit to invite some of the young contemporary artists whose work I had seen at the 2014 degree shows to be part of my selection. I also asked two Modern British artists - so there is probably a 60-70 year gap between my young and emerging artists and the well established Modern British ones; hopefully an interesting combination.
I'm also interested in the effect of art on disadvantaged groups - whether that is prisoners, people with mental health issues or learning difficulties. This is why I asked an artist called Dena to submit works to the show. I'm really fascinated by the way they approach art. Not so much the ones that become technically accomplished - which is great - but it's the raw emotion in their art which fascinates me. So I'm steadily buying work which fits that brief and using The Ingram Collection to help these disadvantaged groups in the community.
I didn't think about the selection days too much beforehand and was surprised that it became amazingly competitive! I was confident the selection would be alright as I tend to buy art very quickly and decisively. What I didn't realise is that selecting for a show like this is a completely different process - and the curators were more than a match for me! We ended up trading works between our selections in order to benefit the overall look of the exhibition.
The Discerning Eye exhibition has been a welcome opportunity to show Modern British masters and contemporary artists from The Ingram Collection, alongside selections from the submissions. The experience of working with my fellow selectors has been enlightening, and I very much hope that visitors will enjoy what we, together, have created; a celebration of talent 'older' and new!
Selector Profile: Dr Giles Brown
Collecting art is sometimes about choice and sometimes about pure gut feeling. The former is based on personal preference, informed by research and (most importantly) looking, while the latter is that 'wow' factor that can hit you in such a way that the work remains with you long after you have seen it. The very personal nature of taste was at the forefront of my mind as I chose my invited artists and viewed more than 2000 works from the open submission for this year's ING Discerning Eye exhibition. What I was clear about was that I was a selector, not a judge; the works in my part of the exhibition highlight my personal preference for a work, group of works or style from particular artists. They certainly do not represent value judgements on the ability of one artist over another. What you see reflects my preferences for contemporary art that I believe is of very high quality. Further, it reflects a very personal journey; one which has encompassed the richness of not only seeing works of art, but also meeting artists, going on studio visits and gallery tours, attending exhibition openings and private views, and discussing and debating different styles, motivations, aims and impacts of different artists.
The Discerning Eye is about supporting artists and promoting the buying and collecting of art, and being involved this year has been a real pleasure and privilege. Selectors choose independently, not as a group, and my choices were predominantly informed by three main themes (the natural environment, the built environment and portraiture) across a range of media. It offered the opportunity to invite some of the artists we have collected (or would like to collect), many of whom are based in Bristol, are early in their careers and whose work we live with every day. Further, I have only selected works from the open submission which would fit into our collection and which I would love to hang in our home. As a private collector you have to live with the works, and they have to sustain their impact and wonder, and remain a joy to look at, as well as adding another dimension to your surroundings.
It is an honour to be able to show these artists' works in the ING Discerning Eye exhibition. Hopefully you will enjoy and be stimulated by my selection, which offers both a snapshot of the contemporary art I like, as well the opportunity to view the familiar in a different way and to reflect on ways of portraying and seeing. Ultimately, I hope some of my selection makes it into your collection and that you are prompted to undertake your own journeys in collecting art!
Selector Profile: Simon Martin
As the Artistic Director of a museum of modern art, I am used to making aesthetic decisions for exhibitions based on knowledge of (or research into) an artist's life and work, or their techniques and use of materials, as well as the individual merits of the work itself. Being part of the selection panel for this year's ING Discerning Eye exhibition has meant making decisions in a very different way: having to decide in an instant whether or not an artwork appeals on a personal level, without any prior knowledge of the artist or their work. It has been fascinating and enjoyable to be part of the panel and to experience the different ways in which we all made our choices. When 2000 artworks pass your eyes in a single day one has to make snap decisions about the quality of an artwork: whether it has a striking composition, an interesting subject, an accomplished technique, whether it has anything to 'say', or simply whether it appeals on a deeper, unconscious level. Given all of this I think I was surprised by my decisiveness. The test of time - whether one would like to live with an artwork, and look at it again and again on a daily basis - is perhaps the more considered decision to be made by those coming to the exhibition itself and contemplating which works to acquire. But hopefully my selection of about 100 artworks will provide an interesting and particular distillation for visitors.
I hadn't decided to select according to any preconceived theme, but once they were all chosen it was interesting for me to see that a kind of aesthetic emerges through my choices. Clearly I am drawn on some level to images of architecture and interiors, to paintings and prints of curious objects, and in some cases a Romantic sensibility. My additional choices to the open submission are all artists whose work I admire on a personal basis, and in some cases whose work I have collected. It has been a pleasure to take part and I very much hope that all 'my' artistic choices will appeal to others.
Selector Profile: Helen Sumpter
The prospect of selecting artworks in the open submission part of the ING Discerning Eye exhibition had initially seemed a daunting one - having to make decisions based on an immediate response to over 2,000 works, and having to do so in competition with a panel of five others. However, the selection process turned out to be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding one, for those very same reasons.
While all the selectors saw works that we might have chosen snapped up by quicker fellow panellists, we also swapped some of those works with each other during the final part of the procedure. This ensured that the best pieces stayed in the show, irrespective of whose name they were exhibited under. This was a validation that, as selectors, we all felt the need to put the art and the artists before our own egos. That we all initially chose far more works for our sections of the exhibition than we were permitted to keep, is testament to the standard of submissions overall.
For my choice of invited artists, again I drew on that immediate emotional response and selected some of the many artists I've had the pleasure of meeting, whose work may not necessarily be the most known, but which for many different reasons, has stayed with me.