Judging the A-level Summer Exhibition Online
By Asha McLoughlin
Published 9 June 2014
The judging panel of this year’s A-level Summer Exhibition Online discusses their selection process.
2014 has been a record year for the A-level Summer Exhibition Online, with over 2,100 submissions from 361 schools across the UK. 1,280 young artists between 16 and 18 years old have entered what they feel to be their most exciting or important artwork. The final online exhibition, Functions of a Hand includes 36 works displayed in three virtual galleries. A further 70 works have been commended in a shortlist (displayed below). We asked this year’s panel of judges, Exhibitions curator Dr Adrian Locke, RA Schools student Julie Born Schwartz and artist Humphrey Ocean RA to tell us about their experiences curating this unique exhibition.
We describe the process of whittling down entries more as curating than judging. It is more about selecting, organising and presenting work in an exhibition that represents the ideas, imagination and abilities of young emerging artists still in study. One of this year’s judges, Royal Academician Humphrey Ocean sums it up: “When I sat down to look at what had been sent, I realise now I was starting in the wrong place, some imaginary playground with teenagers lurking and a smell of school dinners. I soon caught up, confronted by fiery and thoughtful works, some slightly barmy, luckily, but brave and of a quality I did not expect. The beginning of something good. And if all goes well these enquiring minds, plus I hope many of those who did not quite make this cut, are next year’s art school intake, or the year after. So I began to feel better.”
All three of our judges were impressed by the strength and diversity of the work presented, and spoke of the optimism they felt after the judging. RA Schools student Julie Born Schwartz says:
“It was a huge pleasure to see so many wonderful submissions. There was a lot of talent and some of the works have stayed with me, because they were such strong images, or as the title of the exhibition indicates, that a simple gesture had transformed a known material to a philosophical matter. The future looks bright.”
Adrian Locke, who has been a curator at the RA for over 10 years, spoke of the impressively high standard of work submitted as: "a very positive reflection on their creative imagination and technical ability. At a time when art as a subject is under threat, it is essential to realise how important it remains as a means of expression as well as providing a valuable commentary on society in general."
As well as cutting down the number of submissions, we also ask our judges to curate the artworks into separate galleries. Secondary Programme Coordinator Ann Gilmore, who has managed the A-level Summer Exhibition Online for eight years, describes this process: “The curating process generated thoughtful discussion about youth culture and expression. This year the curators viewed artwork created with wit and insight, for example, Look at This by Tarique Al-Shabazz. It was really wonderful to watch the judges quickly and decisively place images into the exhibition galleries and position them into place, innately understanding the importance of how the images look together. The RA would also like to commend a further 70 works which have been shortlisted and can be viewed here.”
We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the teachers who, in a way, take part in the A-level Summer Exhibition Online too. Submitting to the exhibition is a two-stage process. First, teachers must register their school and then students may submit their artwork, so without the teachers’ input, this exhibition would not function. Adrian Locke says: "Without taking anything away from the work – which it has been a pleasure to judge as well as a humbling experience to realise how sophisticated and mature it is – it is worth remembering the valuable support of teaching staff in the creative process.”
The A-level Summer Exhibition Online is the only open-submission online exhibition for emerging artists in study in the UK, providing a unique opportunity for 16 to 18 year old student artists to show their artwork. All students currently studying A-levels or equivalent (BTEC, Highers, IB) at secondary schools and sixth form colleges in the UK were eligible to enter.
The A-level Summer Exhibition Online runs from 9 June – 7 August on the Royal Academy website.
Find out more about the A-level Summer Exhibition Online, including how you can enter next year.