Art of the Nation – Five Artists Choose

In Art of the Nation – Five Artists Choose, Art UK brought to the London Art Fair 2018 an eclectic selection of artworks from around the United Kingdom. Drawing on the wide-ranging interests of contemporary artists, our exhibition opened a window on the rich and varied public art collections that can be visited across the length and breadth of the country. It represented the first ever collection of work brought together for actual display across the length and breadth of the country by Art UK.

Our charity works principally in the digital world so the organisation of the exhibition was a fascinating ‘real world’ adventure!

Our five chosen artists – Sonia Boyce, Mat Collishaw, Haroon Mirza, Oscar Murillo and Rose Wylie – all responded with enthusiasm to the idea. The artists each selected works from both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, based around a theme personal to each of them. The themes spoke of personal interests and individual passions and certainly made for an insightful display that highlights the range of work in public collections across the country.  Indeed, the range of themes is wide and sometimes quirky. 

Sonia Boyce took her theme from a painting by Rasheed Aaraeen in the Walker Art Gallery entitled Boo/69 and went on to base her selection on the words Boo-Betty-Abstract-Grid that relate directly back to that piece which is shown below.

Mat Collishaw took a dark look at a shady world of murder and violence, with strong sexual undertones. The works chosen cover over a century of painting, from William Orpen in 1905 to Avis Underwood in 2010.

Haroon Mirza made a commentary on selection itself by surrendering his own to the daily shifting algorithms used in Google searches, reveling in the notion of choice as pre-determined by a machine that only recognises it in a mathematical and unemotional way.

In his selection, Oscar Murillo took inspiration from a Palestinian poem. His theme was illustrated by artworks of military manoeuvres in the Middle East, soaring jets and placid Arabic villages.

Finally, Rose Wylie focused on the idea of ‘leaving the door open’ and challenged the canon and shared systems of value that place too many artists on the outside of the art world.

Kathleen Soriano, previously Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, curated the exhibition – creating a cohesive and captivating display.

Art UK, Museum Partner 2018

Art UK

“Launched in 2003, Art UK – previously known as the Public Catalogue Foundation – is a small charity with a national and global reach. Our mission is to transform online access to the UK’s national art collection. Our work includes photographing and digitising art collections and producing stimulating content to inspire discovery and learning.

Our website artuk.org is the digital showcase for the nation’s art. It is the most complete representation of the UK’s public collection online, showing over 200,000 paintings by nearly 40,000 artists. The art is held by museums, universities, town halls, libraries, hospitals, even a lighthouse and is spread over 3,250 venues from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly. Much of the art is not usually on display and a high proportion had not been photographed before we started our work in 2003.

At the moment the website mainly shows oil paintings with a small and growing number of watercolours and other works on paper that collections have uploaded. The first of some 170,000 sculptures from inside collections and outdoors in our parks and squares also joined the site in early 2018. This project connected the public with what is arguably the greatest public collection of sculpture in the world.

Our charity’s work brings the nation’s art to life through technological innovation, learning resources, lively stories, debates and discoveries. Art UK also supports the sustainability of thousands of public art collections across the UK through the provision of shared digital infrastructures. Most of the 3,000 + public art collections would not be able to put their art online without the help of Art UK.

Showing art online creates substantial public and economic benefit. It transforms access to artworks and collections across the UK and allows audiences to find out about artworks in store, whilst encouraging visits to the venues themselves. Furthermore, it opens up wonderful learning opportunities for audiences of all ages, inspires creativity and is vital for research. It also offers collections important commercial income generating opportunities. Art UK is a unique charity playing an indispensable role supporting the nation’s public art collections.

A key aspect of our work involves liaising with artists and estates, particularly around the area of copyright to ensure that we have the rights to show their art on online. We are grateful to the thousands of artists and estates as well as the Bridgeman Art Library who do not charge us for reproducing artworks in copyright online. For many of these artists and estates, in return, the Art UK website constitutes an important audit of where their art is held around the UK.

We also are always keen to ask artists to write for the Art UK website about artworks and artists that interest them. When talking with artists, it is fascinating to go beyond their own practice and explore their own tastes.  To see what piques their interest, what they admire in other artists, what they dislike. The results are often surprising.

So for our first ever exhibition we wanted to put contemporary artists at the heart of it. Frankly, with over 200,000 artworks to choose from, we also needed help in making the selection!  We therefore decided to ask five artists to make a small selection of C20th and C21st works on the Art UK website based around a theme personal to each of them. To tie the five selections together into a cohesive exhibition we asked the wonderful Kathleen Soriano to be our curator.”

Andrew Ellis, Director