161st Annual Exhibition of the Society of Women Artists

Part 2 of my review of the annual exhibition of the Society of Women Artists at the Mall Galleries covers the exhibition as a whole in relation to:

  • 469 artworks on display – with a high standard
  • The ratio of members artwork to artwork selected from the open entry is 50:50. The latter has been selected from over 3,000 entries via the call for entries from non members
  • a very great deal of ‘fresh’ artwork with “same old same old” at a minimum
  • an outstanding exhibition sculpture
  • a very impressive gallery of portraits
  • better than some other art society exhibitions at the Mall Galleries
Some of the sculpture in the West Gallery

The exhibition is open daily at the Mall Galleries 10am – 5pm – except for the last day (Sunday 11th September) when it closes at 1pm.

Attractiveness of this Open Exhibition

This is an exhibition which:

  • attracts over 3,000 entries via the open entry
  • selects a large number of works for hanging or display in the exhibition – across all three galleries of the Mall Galleries
  • aims to achieve a 50:50 ratio in relation to
    • artwork exhibited by members
    • artwork selected from the open entry
    • AND in the way the artwork is exhibited

The latter 50:50 in particular is a very attractive proposition for those women artists wanting to enter open art exhibitions. It’s a ratio not always achieved by the national art societies who rather too often tend to favor their members.

West Gallery

Moreover the exhibition is hung in such a way that it mixes up the artwork by members and non-members right across the exhibition. There’s no “hogging” particular galleries by members and no sense of any dip in the quality of the work as you get into the North Gallery and move back – which is, to my mind, a feature of a few too many exhibitions held at the Mall Galleries.

So overall – this is an exhibition which demonstrates a very fair and even-handed approach to artwork by both members and non-members.

East Gallery – end wall

Quality of the Artwork

Some years ago I wrote a rather scathing review of the annual exhibition of the Society of Women Artists when selection seemed to depend on who you were friends with rather than the quality of artwork.

The SWA set about changing my mind and I’ve been very pleased to report very significant improvements in the exhibitions since then.

However, this exhibition is perhaps the best exhibition I’ve seen. I was trying to think of the nearest equivalent – which I think is probably the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists. It’s as least as good as that and in some ways better.

What particularly struck me was how much of the artwork was

  • NOT the “same old, same old” – which is a feature of some exhibitions by other societies which feature a lot of artwork by members who never ever change their style or try anything new. I think the proportion of artwork by young non-members who see things in a different way very possibly contributes to the lack of ‘same old same old’.
Paintings and sculpture in the West Gallery
  • a much more diverse range of subject matter – and media. I found that the word I kept using to describe what I was seeing was “fresh”. It seemed to me there was more innovation and experimentation to be seen than in previous exhibitions of the SWA – and the exhibitions of some other art societies. I wondered whether the pandemic had given artists the time and space to try new things and working in different ways.
  • a lot of very colorful artwork – those selected for the exhibition are certainly not afraid of colour. This was one of the aspects which distinguished it from some of the other national art society exhibitions – where I sometimes get very bored with the amount of browns and grays and gloomy artwork. (I’m somebody who likes colourful optically mixed neutrals!). I also liked the way artwork was grouped around color themes.
West Gallery – PV Day

East Gallery

a color themed display in the East Gallery

I was also struck by the number of MEN who’d come to view the artwork!

Interestingly when I attended the Private View I was interested to note how many of those there were young women artists. It struck me that maybe the comments I’m making relate to how much of the artwork is being produced by younger artists who have both fresh ideas and/or fresh approaches to producing artwork

Outstanding aspects of the exhibition

Sculpture

There were two particularly outstanding aspects to the exhibition.

There is an extensive range of sculpture in various media in the exhibition. In terms of both quantity and quality I thought the overall impression was outstanding. You can see some of the sculpture in images in this post.

Groups of sculpture in the West Gallery
Sculpture on the plinth of the East Gallery

I’m left wondering whether this is in any way connected with the fact that the President is a sculptor.

Two sculptures by Helen Merrigan Colfer (front and back)

I particularly liked the figurative narrative sculptures by Helen Merrigan Colfer – an Irish artist who is a native of Wexford.

Portrait

I thought the decision to have a gallery dedicated to portraiture was particularly effective. It was very definitely one of those “2 + 2 = 6” decisions – reminding me somewhat of exquisite window displays in large retail stores – which through selection of items and design of the display creates something which makes everything look better and more impressive.

A corner of the Portraiture Gallery

That’s surely ought to always be the objective of any exhibition – a hang which makes everything look good because of how work is grouped within the display.

I gather it was a decision which evolved – and I congratulate those who recognised the opportunity which presented itself and went with the option to create something special. They pulled it off!

Artwork I liked

There was a lot of artwork I liked – and I’m going to highlight a few which ‘jumped out’ at me. I’ve tried to include it throughout this post.

I’m a sucker for any artist who draws or paints artwork about people looking at artwork in exhibitions – in part because it’s been one of the things I like drawing!

I like this couple of very colorful paintings by Zoe Moss – and loved the titles “Look Mum My Painting Got Into The Royal Academy” and “Look Mum My Painting Got Into Miami Basel– although it’s a pity that the captions are the wrong way round! I note her excellent track record at being selected for various leading art competitions.
Two paintings by Zoe Moss

I also really liked these two drawings by Rosmond Kinsey Milner – which were on display in the Portraiture Gallery.

Drawings by Rosmond Kinsey Milner


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