The ING Discerning Eye exhibition is a destination for art collectors, offering the chance to discover emerging artists at pivotal moments in their career. Now in its 27th year, the exhibition offers something for all collectors with an immense diversity of works – from paintings and prints to sculpture and photography. With an increased focus on collecting female artists – a notable growth area this year – Aesthetica speaks to gallerists Jonny and Joe from Unit London about the importance of championing emerging artists and their current exhibition, 21st Century Women.
A: Is there a shift towards equal representation in galleries, particularly with shows like 21st Century Women and ING Discerning Eye, that celebrate and provide a platform for artists from all walks of life – regardless of training or established art networks?
UL: The prerequisites for young artists to become prominent are changing. Formal places of education, social status, gender, ethnicity, geography… all these historically predetermining factors for success in the art world are becoming less and less important. There are lots of reasons for this, and the most important is probably social media. It offers an increased discourse and connectivity between collectors, curators and artists.
The opportunity to “make something of yourself” is greater than ever before – and this removes power from the institutions and individuals that have traditionally been the tastemakers, shifting the focus back to the artist and the collector. Our job as co-founders of Unit London is to listen to, support and empower these two groups – and that’s exactly what 21st Century Women is all about; empowering the artists and offering them a platform to be seen by the broadest possible audience. Similarly, ING Discerning Eye empowers both artist and collector. The exhibition offers emerging creatives an opportunity to show alongside established practitioners, meanwhile collectors have a rare opportunity to discover exciting new artists working across a broad range of medias and methodologies.
A: Ishbel Myerscough, a previous ING Discerning Eye exhibitor and selector, is exhibiting in 21st Century Women along with a range of exciting female artists from Jenny Saville to Chantal Joffe and Helen Beard, who make similarly powerful works. Could you tell us a bit about Ishbel’s selected painting?
UL: Ishbel Myerscough’s painting Bella in the Bath – included in 21st Century Women – explores the changing reality of female experiences as we age whilst reflecting shifting notions of womanhood.
A: Both exhibitions include works that explore the female gaze – from Lorna May Wadsworth’s Sea Scout 1 in ING Discerning Eye to Charlotte Colbert’s Benefit Supervisor Sleeping By Lion Carpet in 21st Century Women. Do you see these works as a call to arms to subvert the “male gaze” and restore agency to female subjects and artists alike?
UL: Yes, they absolutely are. A bold and important message! In 21st Century Women there is such an incredible thematic diversity in the messaging, with every artist employing a very different narrative to embrace female empowerment. Themes include sexuality, subversion of the male gaze, fantasy and surrealism. This variety is important for us to finally see change taking effect.
A: Do galleries have a responsibility to show works that confront issues relating to diversity and inclusivity?
UL: Galleries have a responsibility to support the talent that they stand behind. At its best the gallery is a stage – a platform which allows the artist to showcase their work with absolute creative freedom. We are uncompromising in our approach and believe deeply in each of our artists, which allows them to produce their best and most culturally relevant work. There is an amazing pace of change in our culture today and our societies are more diverse and inclusive than ever before. We want to embrace and build on that to make a meaningful impact in the industry and allow talented artists the opportunities they deserve.
A: As in the ING Discerning Eye exhibition, Unit London often shows exciting emerging artists alongside more established practitioners. Will that remain central to your gallery model going forwards?
UL: Our focus has always been the promotion and nurturing of emerging talent. It can often be beneficial for younger artists’ development to be positioned alongside more established names, so in this context, yes – absolutely. There are also some more established names that we have always admired, so for us personally it’s exciting to be able to explore those opportunities now when they present themselves. Our next exhibition at Unit London, Reincarnation, will be the largest UK show of works by Chinese contemporary artist Jacky Tsai, opening 9 November 2018. Tsai’s practice unites cultural influences from the East and West, fusing a range of motifs on large-scale vibrant canvases. We have been in conversation with Tsai for a long time, and it’s great to see the show finally realised.
A: Earlier this year you moved from Soho to a vast new space on Hanover Square. In the age of Instagram and social media, how important is it for collectors to go to exhibitions like those mentioned and experience the artworks in person?
UL: Much of what we do is activated online. But, just like any creative pursuit, art is a human endeavour and must be experienced in person to be fully realised and appreciated. We focus on the physical experience and use technological innovations to broadcast that experience to the world in a variety of formats. The physical space will never be supplanted by an online experience – no matter how good!
Jacky Tsai: Reincarnation, opens at Unit London on the 9 November 2018 and runs until 22 December 2018.
1. Annie Morris, Stack 9.