ING Discerning Eye

Edge of town in the evening' by Paul Newland (2015)

Edge of town in the evening’
by Paul Newland (2015)

the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2016

opens at the Mall Galleries, London this Thursday and runs until 27 November

Sponsored by ING Commercial Banking, the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition is a show of small works independently selected by six prominent figures from the art world: two artists, two collectors and two critics. A total of 727 works – including paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings and photographs – by 405 artists will be on show from 17 – 27 November 2016 at the Mall Galleries in London.

This year’s dynamic selection panel includes artist and writer Dan Coombs, currently visiting professor at Haute École d’art et de design in Geneva, alongside artist and Royal Academician Chris Orr RA. They are joined by two collectors: well-known television, film and theatre actress Celia Imrie, and Ian Mayes QC, Master of the House at Middle Temple and Chairman of the Temple Church.  The final two selectors are the poet and art critic Michael Glover whose criticism is frequently seen in The Independent and The Times, and Sacha Craddock, art critic, writer and curator who co-founded Artschool Palestine.

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The selectors have each curated their own section of the Exhibition, drawing their selection from artists they have personally invited to exhibit, as well as artworks submitted through an open call. The result is six smaller exhibitions within one, each with a very distinct personality.

The uniqueness of having each work chosen by an eminent individual, unlike in a group selected show, has earned the Exhibition an excellent reputation among art lovers and collectors alike. The charm of the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition lies in the unpredictability and variety of the selectors’ choices. Works of lesser-known artists hang alongside those of more established artists helping to connect hundreds of new artists with new audiences.

The selectors have adopted uniquely personal approaches for curating their sections of the exhibition:


‘My section of the Exhibition, which combines unseen works by selected artists and works chosen from a mass of submitted material, will take the form of a polyvalent1 rhizome2. That is to say, a plateau of multiplicities laced together by invisible connections. The individual works and artists were selected because of their singularity. Collectively, they will form a polyphony, a collage of possibilities.’

1Polyvalent – having many different functions, forms or facets.

2Rhizome – a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus (1980). It is what Deleuze calls an ‘image of thought’ based on the botanical rhizome, which is multiple, planar, and propagates growth with  ‘no beginning or end’.


‘I like pictures that tell a story. As well as the stories of life around us, the source may be an anecdote, the overheard snatch of conversation (mobile phones are a gift) the poem or the novel. I also have a soft spot for things that in themselves are stories. The process and evolution of a picture are part of its personality. A work might have gone through many phases of success and failure, testing and editing, clarification and mystery before it is settled, so storytelling in one form or another is the business of Art. Perhaps it all goes back to our ancient ancestors who sat around the fire repeating tales, scratching in the sand, singing songs to confirm and develop human experience.

In theory, the contemporary artist is freed from the more tedious aspects of representing the world, but it is surprising how many of us still want to describe and tell the story of the stuff that goes on around us, despite the invention of smart ways to process reality. The more the digital revolution reaches for perfection, the more people seem to want to wrestle with the beast of subjective phenomena. So open exhibitions like the Discerning Eye and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition have a prolific send-in of passionate figurative work. Just as in China at any one moment, there will be millions performing a Mozart piano piece, so in Britain at any one moment there must be many thousands working away with paint and pencil, chisel and scalpel. On completion they desperately want other people to see the results.

So what is good and bad in Art, and how do the judges choose one picture as opposed to another? In the selection process the works come at you thick and fast, brought in by a team of art handlers. You must make an instant decision. This has to be intuitive. Like going to a very large party you quickly work out who you want to talk to. There are second thoughts, for and against, but no time to do research or look for corroborating evidence. You have to trust your judgement built over years of looking. I remember the shock when I first went to Art School and was told that there was no progress in Art and that the definition of the bad in Art had changed many times. This is the last bastion of an unreasonable world where intuitive feeling trumps all the myriad orthodoxies.

The net result is a contradictory Exhibition, but this contradiction is at the heart of creativity. No open submission exhibition makes sense. It is the very surprising unpredictability that makes it both significant and entertaining. Walking into a display like this often leads to a kind of “snow blindness”. The result of a large number of small scale, but intense images can put you into a bit of a spin, but look carefully dear viewer, and you will surely find something of great significance, even life changing for you. That is why I have chosen what I have chosen.’


‘I am so excited to be given this chance to invite my favourite artists to join in this vast and spectacular competition. Of all fields in the Arts surely getting started as an artist must be the hardest. So if this occasion helps display their talents to a wider audience I am very happy. Bizarrely, while rehearsing King Lear I am grateful to discover there is one of my lines I hope I will not forget:

“Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning”

Thank you for giving me this treat.’


‘The ING sponsored exhibition at the Mall Galleries is the centrepiece of Discerning Eye’s year, but this charity does other good work. Without the hard work of the Discerning Eye team the Triforium of the twelfth Century Temple Church would not have been transformed from a store for old musical scores into an exciting visual arts space “in the Round” and in the heart of Legal London. If John Penrose, Tony Humphreys and Emma and Penny from Parker Harris had not put on last year’s inaugural show of the DE Collection the lawyers would still just be talking about it.

Being a selector meant that I could invite old friends, which was the easy part. Choosing off a conveyor belt only sixty works from the open submission of more than two thousand was a bruising process. Conducted in a well-mannered but highly competitive spirit – a bit like practice at the Bar – selectors needed to react fast and instinctively. Around three to five seconds were allowed to decide whether to include or reject a work. He who hesitated would see a prized work ending up on a fellow selector’s wall.

The mix of old friends and new talent means that on my wall there is something for everybody and, possibly (on closer inspection) something to offend everybody. Enjoy!’


The Helplessness of the Winners

They took themselves up and off,

later that day, you might say,

as a way of disbelieving

– or even denying –

that they had been chosen.

None of them had asked

to be there that morning

in that cold, dank basement

open to the novelty of

grey, new-fangled day.

One by one they had been brought in,

and then quite roughly handled –

swivelled, bounced.

One or two had even been obliged to

fall on their faces.

Had there been space –

or even a moment’s notice –

to plead for themselves?

All were mute.

All were helpless.

Each one had said: see me now,

and then perhaps never again…

Just a few survived:

the brazen, the plucky,

the outrageous, the never-say-dies,

the full-in-the face types.


‘Discerning Eye provides the opportunity to consider a broad range of painting and sculpture, albeit of a prescribed scale. Once immersed so much can and does emerge. I of course enjoyed choosing the artists I admire to contribute, but I also always cherish the opportunity to select from an open send-in.  The fellow selectors and I spent an intense, good-natured and often competitive day together. I wonder how it will turn out: while not pretending to actually curate the mass of work I have selected and asked for, I look forward to attempting to bring forward the quality in each.’

Exhibition Information:

All selected works will be on display at the Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1 from 17 – 27 November 2016. Open from 10am – 5pm daily. Admission Free. Nearest Tube: Charing Cross. All works are for sale:

For enquiries contact Parker Harris on: or 01372 462190

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