September 2, 2007

Whistle-stop tour of Scottish art history

"Beyond Appearances: Painting and Picturing in Scottish Modern and Contemporary Art," City Art Centre, Edinburgh. Artists include: McTaggart, Fergusson, Johnstone, Eardley, Redpath, Davie, Gear, Paolozzi, Turnbull, Bellany, Rae, Watt, Innes, Boyle Family, Jacqui Campbell and Dorothy Lawrenson.Through Sept. 23.

In The Scotsman, Iain Gale reports: "Although the explanatory panel proposes 'an exploratory visual investigation into what might be the distinguishing stylistic qualities and thematic characteristics of Scottish art...', the free leaflet quickly digresses from this purpose. While the show is not hung chronologically, the rubric embarks on a whistle-stop tour of Scottish art history since 1880. Most curious of all is the statement that the exhibition has 'no predetermined intent' but relies upon the visitor's 'critical cooperation' to forge any connections, and indeed any overall meaning. This a strange, wayward ramble of a show. A curate's egg, good in parts but at times a real stinker, it has no direction, no conclusion and no real thread. The show's subtext, evident from the leaflet, seems to be that the concept that painting is easily divided into abstract and figurative is a construct. But that surely is A-level art history, or at best first-year degree stuff....

Throughout this show, I continually found myself asking why a particular work had been chosen. One reason was clearly the fact that it was in the city's outstanding art collection. But other choices were more obtuse. I would not challenge a curator's personal taste, providing it serves a purpose, but why include so many contemporary artists who simply do not measure up to the truly great works on show? And why borrow them from a handful of small dealers south of the Border? Why are there so many pieces on loan from commercial galleries and offered for sale in a price list, when better examples might have been borrowed locally? Moreover, the dark and unengaging Gillies, and the Bellany and Barbara Rae close to which it hangs, also on loan from a London gallery, would certainly not have been my first choices for outstanding examples of their work. What does make the show worth a visit are masterpieces by Stanley Cursiter, Turnbull, Willie Barnes Graham, Callum Innes, Alison Watt, Keith Dingwall and the Boyles, some of which are making a rare outing from private collections." Read more.

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