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August 11 2012

Dieter Roth: Diaries; Philip Guston: Late Paintings – review

Fruitmarket Gallery; Inverleith House, Edinburgh

Dieter Roth was a celebrated sculptor, performer, film-maker and draughtsman whose work has been displayed all over the world since his death in 1998. He was also an alcoholic. His last video installation was a record of his final year, lived in the knowledge that he was slowly dying of the consequences.

You can watch Solo Scenes – for hours, potentially for days – on 128 video screens at the Fruitmarket Gallery, part of Dieter Roth: Diaries. It is one of the most significant shows in a particularly strong edition of the Edinburgh art festival. There he is, this old man in a soft cap with his solitary ways, seen in the low brown glow of his apartment. He is a figure fit for late Rembrandt or the novels of Samuel Beckett.

He works, he eats, he writes, he thinks. He hangs out his meagre washing. In bed, beneath the lamp, he reads late into the night; in the morning there is toast to make. Snow gathers outside, spring comes and he tends his plants. Each scene is conspicuously framed (the camera judders and shakes) before Roth appears within it. This is one of the longest time-lapse self-portraits in art: literally, life passing from moment to moment.

And what does Roth do, faced with this mortal dread? He simply goes on working, a common and quiet heroism, as the dawn-to-dusk structure of the work implies. Perhaps some concession is made to comfort – the artist very often appears in his dressing gown, frequently with a blanket – but the low buzz of activity never ceases, even against the faint soundtrack of a clock.

There are drawings to make and letters to write. Some kind of art is gathering, quite apart from these videos themselves. In the studio there are occasional glimpses of self-portraits, sculptures, paintings; and hundreds of ring binders neatly arranged in library shelves.

The actual shelves are installed upstairs at the Fruitmarket Gallery, each file containing the ill-considered trifles of Roth's daily life: bills and tickets and restaurant napkins, bank statements and parking tickets, anything and everything that was less than 5mm thick, preserved in this orderly archive entitled Flat Waste.

Shoring up the fragments was not just a compulsion for Roth, it was an aesthetic principle. He made fantastically elaborate environments – a studio, an entire bar complete with empties and overflowing ashtrays – out of junk. He also worked with chocolate, baking dough and soft cheese, the inevitable deterioration of each piece equated with life's decline. The materials of art were indivisible from the materials of life.

It might have helped to include an earlier work for those unfamiliar with Roth. But the Fruitmarket has several ingenious self-portraits rapidly executed in ballpoint (the artist as a whirring fan, a speech bubble, a weeping pig) and many of his copiously illustrated diaries. These are written in his native German, but there are tantalising entries in English: "Dorothy loves you madly. She hopes to get through this phase and love you more." What happened with Dorothy, one longs to know, after that declaration in 1967?

The diaries, like the videos, put everything on the same par, from the love letter to the last cup of coffee. And that is the ethos of the whole show. It doesn't feel desperate – a clutching at straws – so much as ravenously interested in everything that exists. Solo Scenes is only finished, so far as I can tell, in that there is a last monitor showing a last piece of video. The death is unrecorded and the work feels energetic, relishing every minute of every day. Roth's curiosity never dies.

The art festival this year feels pensive, profound. The Ingleby Gallery has a rediscovered work by that great Scottish original Ian Hamilton Finlay – a lethal air-sea battle played out on an ironing board with wooden planes and irons, tragedy somehow miniaturised with no loss of effect. At lunchtime each day, in response to Edinburgh Castle's one o'clock gun, you can hear the disembodied voice of the Turner prize winner Susan Philipsz hanging in the air at evocative staging posts around the city: a siren song drawing you into the past.

And the Dutch artist Melvin Moti has made a spectacularly beautiful work for the National Museum of Scotland simply by passing UV rays over objects from the collection – scorpions, fluorescing fossils, perfume bottles made from uranium – and filming the high-chrome effects. These visions appear vast and small, planetary and yet subatomic.

But best of all is the show of late paintings by the American master Philip Guston at Inverleith House, the first to be staged in Scotland. This is the Guston of the great tragicomic period with its near-cartoonish vocabulary: men with heads like lima beans, huge flatiron shoes, hoods riding the streets smoking cigarettes in open-top cars, gigantic hands reaching down from the heavens to make a point (in this case, the point of a pencil).

In The Studio, a hood paints his own portrait, appraising his art through Disney eye-slits and smoking as he works. The cigarette has been airbrushed from the picture on the easel, along with the light bulb, the palette and the one-handed clock, but in every other respect he paints himself exactly as he is painted by Philip Guston himself.

For this is Guston's allegorical self-portrait: the artist as antihero and nicotine addict, getting through two packs of Camel a day. The picture is full of jokes, from the rueful allusion to Velázquez in the silver, pink and black of the colour scheme to the fact that you can't tell whether the smoke is issuing from the cigarette or the paintbrush.

The bulb, the Klannish hood, the ciggy with its orange tip: Guston evolved a pungent vocabulary of forms that couldn't stand for anything except themselves and yet always meant so much more. Those hoods, hugger-mugger in some kind of office, what are they up to with their arms raised against each other? That curious citadel, pink, fat and squat, ascending like Brueghel's towering Babel, seems both ancient and yet so modern you might turn a corner and find it before you today, a sinister bureaucracy rising up to blood and milk clouds.

Guston's late paintings have become archetypes, irreducibly simple, translating the world. Like good cartoons, and great paintings, they reveal what cannot easily be said.

This is an ideal introduction for newcomers and a perfectly condensed anthology for Guston's admirers, especially since many of the works have never been shown in Britain before. There are only nine paintings, all borrowed from private collections in the United States. But with Guston, a little goes a long way.


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December 04 2011

Reopen for business

Scotland's National Portrait Gallery, reopened after a dramatic £17.6m overhaul, is a bright and democratic delight

The Big Man, just up from the coal mine, looks fit to burst with mirth. The Newhaven fishwife, in her striped skirt, presents a triumphantly empty basket. In the factory, the 19th-century cloth weavers pause from their labours before the camera's protracted gaze, but the child in the Glasgow slum cannot keep so still. He leaves a trace of himself, a little shivering ghost peeping out from a doorway in Close, No 46, Saltmarket.

The overlooked, the forgotten, the marginal and the nameless: these people of Scotland's past (and present) now take their place for the first time in the newly remade Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It is a radical change, and strikingly democratic. It may also be the most significant of all the many alterations made since 2009 to that wallflower of a museum in Queen Street.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has never been fully loved, at least not compared to the National Gallery, the Museum of Scotland or the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art I and II. The world's first purpose-built portrait gallery – funded by the Scotsman's proprietor when the government wouldn't stump up the funds – opened in 1889, a huge neo-gothic edifice of red sandstone that more resembles an ecclesiastical building than a museum.

Inside, it could seem sepulchrally dark, the great hall mainly notable for its austere brickwork, the upper floors disorientating with their false ceilings and mysteriously blocked-off doors. The carpets (such as they were) tended to trip you up. It always felt a bit heavy on the Scottish lairds, a bit light on the moderns and it did not contain what is surely the nation's most famous portrait, Henry Raeburn's The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, which seemed to say it all.

Some of the portraits were enthralling, and the temporary shows could be excellent but the SNPG came to stand, in certain quarters, for superlative cheese scones. Growing up in Edinburgh, I remember hearing it acidly referred to as the overflow tearoom to Jenners. But in the past two years the building has been completely remodelled, floors and walls rearranged, small galleries created, large galleries beautifully brightened with LED systems and the plentiful daylight now entering through the new roof. The Museum of Antiquities has moved out, opening up 60% more space. And its excellent library has been brought wholesale from the top floor to the centre of the building, filled with wonderful sculptures and strange curiosities, including the death masks of Voltaire and grave robbers Burke and Hare. The library is now open to the public. And that is as symbolic as the 2,000 gold stars that now twinkle in the once-dour great hall. It turns out that they were always there in the background, but just needed some attention. The museum has opened up, brought its portraits – its people – out of the shadows.

So it now shows, for instance, not just the textbook Mary, Queen of Scots but images of her confidantes, husbands, advisers and detractors, notably her nemesis John Knox, to present a more intimate sense of her life. It gives you not just the 18th-century painter Allan Ramsay, in self-portrait, but his father, wives and many friends (including the philosopher David Hume, off-duty in a velvet cap to keep his bald head warm) so that his milieu, as well as the evolution of his style, emerges.

And nearby you will find Rousseau, painted by Ramsay for Hume when the Scot brought the Frenchman to Britain to escape persecution in 1765. And Bonnie Prince Charlie, escaping Scotland for the continent, sketched by Ozias Humphrey in 1776 as a dropsical old drunk in whose bloated face you can nonetheless see traces of the Young Pretender.

Connections and cross-connections develop everywhere. Here is the humble likeness of James Wilson, the Lanarkshire weaver who found fame as one of the Radical Martyrs, hanged for protesting against unemployment in 1820; and the grandiloquent portrait of the hanging judge. Here are the fishwives of Hill and Adamson's famous calotypes near an oil portrait of the Scottish suffragette who would bring their successors to protest in London.

Portrait pantheons rely on words as well as images. You read of John Campbell, cashier to the ultra-loyalist Royal Bank of Scotland, who brazenly cashed £6,000 for the Jacobites in 1749. You learn how the Enlightenment philosopher Adam Ferguson influenced Karl Marx, how the geologist John Hutton proved in the late 1700s that the Earth must be more than 6,000 years old, as popularly believed.

Sometimes the wall texts make too much of the biography, downplaying the picture for the person. Nothing is made of the stunning little still life of rocks and fossils in Raeburn's painting of Hutton, for example, or the amazingly free brushwork in David Wilkie's self-portrait.

The SNPG should not be so timid about its paintings. From Nicholas Hilliard's devastatingly subtle James VI and I to Wyndham Lewis's hieratic Naomi Mitchison, scowling impatiently, the museum is full of great works of art.

On the other hand, the new inclusivity allows for some real revelations. The room devoted to Scotland's first portrait painter fills the imagination. George Jamesone (c 1589-1644) studied with a decorative painter in Aberdeen. The SNPG has a fragment of the Libyan Sibyl he painted for a Burntisland house, later home to Mary Somerville, 19th-century scientist.

Jamesone's portraits are hardly Van Dyck, not surprising given the isolation of these early painters. But his self-portrait – leaning forward, alert and highly attentive as if dwelling on your every syllable – is a little wonder.

The new photography gallery introduces the 19th century as never before: schoolboys, crofters, salmon poachers, ladies in long skirts scaling Salisbury Crags. Thomas Annan's Saltmarket series is the first slum record and there are other deservedly famous images, most breathtakingly AG Buckham's aerial view of Edinburgh Castle as a sceptred Camelot ringed with silver clouds.

Indeed landscapes have a heavy presence, as if the SNPG regarded them as a form of portraiture by other means. That may be true of Graham Fagen's affecting video Missing, which searches wastelands for lost children. But it is arguable and distorts the display. Anyone looking for Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Rennie Mackintosh or JM Barrie may be dismayed to find them hidden in a side-room of the cafe.

It is not that the curators regard these paintings as upscale decor: I imagine they believe more visitors will look at them here than ever before. For this is a museum of and for the people, Scotland's family album, from the last crofters on St Kilda's to the latest immigrants. Everyone should feel some connection with the thousands of faces on show.

You can argue with the cast list all you like: Gerard Butler but not John Logie Baird? The 20th century is particularly bizarre, but a museum can only work with what it has. I wish this one had portraits by Robert Colquhoun, James Cowie or Joan Eardley (to name only three) and the great film works, say, of John Grierson and Margaret Tait. But now that the gallery is so beautifully renewed perhaps more loans and donations will follow, and even without them the experience is rich, deep and enlightening: just as you would expect from Scotland.


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October 12 2011

10 of the best contemporary art galleries in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's contemporary galleries enjoy great locations and offer playful and challenging art, says Rosamund West

• As featured in our Edinburgh city guide

Axolotl

Dundas Street is the traditional home of Edinburgh's staid commercial galleries, places where you can go to buy a nice landscape in oils or a watercolour of some roses. Axolotl aims to change that with a commercial gallery striking a balance between the edgy and the traditional: selling paintings, drawings, prints and jewellery by figurative, early-career artists. They also like to mix things up a bit with installation pieces – either here or in their partner space, Axo, in Leith.
• 35 Dundas Street, 0131-557 1460, axolotl.co.uk. Wed-Sat 11am-6pm

Collective

Collective creates exhibitions and programmes that provide development for emerging artists, engage their audience and aren't afraid to experiment. Two of its rooms have windows onto Cockburn Street, a busy Old Town road popular with shoppers, tourists and emo kids, meaning that installations can often be viewed from outside. Throughout autumn and winter Collective runs New Work Scotland, an ever-evolving programme of solo exhibitions from selected recent graduates, as well as opportunities for curators and writers; in 2010 a sculpture student named Kevin Harman smashed one of its windows with a pole as a unique form of collaborative art, which got him arrested – albeit briefly.
22-28 Cockburn St, 0131-220 1260, collectivegallery.net. Tues-Sun 11am-5pm

Sierra Metro

It's a bit of a trek to get out to Sierra Metro if you don't have a car, as it's tucked away in Newhaven. It's worth the journey though (you can get a bus on Leith Walk) because this not-for-profit gallery has spent the last three years gaining a reputation as the place to go for well-presented work by early-career artists. Previous exhibitors have included Cara Tolmie, who's since gone on to have a show in DCA, and Caroline Gallacher whose wrestling-themed exhibition proved a critical hit. Sierra Metro also throws a good launch event, bringing in bands and DJs to ensure people make the journey.
Ground Floor North, 22 West Harbour Road, no telephone, sierrametro.com. Thurs-Sun noon-6pm, or by appointment

Inverleith House

In an 18th-century mansion in the centre of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Inverleith House has the most beautiful location of any of the city galleries. The programme can be variable, walking a line between botanically themed exhibits and the curator's inclination to use the unique space to display work by more avant garde artists. The comments book is always worth a read, as the well-to-do ladies and gents of the New Town often use it to express rage at with art which is neither figurative nor plant-related. In the last year the gallery has been swamped by Karla Black's trademark pastel powders in an exhibition which contributed to the Glasgow artist's Turner Prize nomination..
Royal Botanical Gardens, Arboretum Place/Inverleith Row, 0131-248 2971 (0131-248 2849 at weekends), rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/edinburgh/inverleith-house. Tues-Sun 10am-5.30pm

Superclub

At the top of Leith Walk on Gayfield Square, Superclub is one of three galleries which have recently sprung up in the old doggerfisher spaces. It nestles between Whitespace (a gallery which offers both art and occasional Zumba lessons) and Framed, a recent addition to the commercial gallery scene. Superclub is a studio-cum-gallery-cum-shop, set up by a collective of recent graduates as a place to work, exhibit and (hopefully) sell. Out front is the pristine gallery space recently occupied by Alex Gibbs's tranquil paintings, while at the back is a rough and ready installation space used for video projections, launch nights and the occasional gig.
11a Gayfield Square, email: info@superclubstudios.com, superclubstudios.com. See website for upcoming exhibition opening times

Embassy

Run by a committee of artists, the Embassy was set up to represent Edinburgh's grassroots creative community with an elected board whose members are replaced every two years. Its annual members show is worth a look to see the best and the worst of contemporary art in Edinburgh. As the committee changes so does the gallery's character and, frequently, location. It's currently on Broughton Street Lane and seems to have a taste for cerebral installation art. The Embassy also co-ordinates the annuale, an alternative visual art festival and counterpoint to August's more mainstream Edinburgh art festival which runs every year in early summer.
10b Broughton St Lane, email: info@embassygallery.org, embassygallery.org. Thurs-Sun 12-6pm

Fruitmarket

Slap bang in the middle of the city, the Fruitmarket is probably the most high-profile of the city's contemporary galleries. The annual programme intersperses solo exhibitions by Scottish and international artists with group shows by guest curators. Recent hits have included Martin Creed's 2010 Edinburgh art festival exhibition, which saw the artist turn the gallery steps into a musical staircase. 2011's Narcissus Reflected exhibition has also proved to be a crowd pleaser, giving the Edinburgh audience a chance to get up close to Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus and Narkissos, the astonishing masterwork of San Franciscan artist Jess Collins. Summer 2011 sees the opening of the Scotsman Steps opposite the gallery.
45 Market Street, 0131-225 2383, fruitmarket.co.uk. Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm

Stills

Opposite Collective on Cockburn Street, Stills offers the city's only dedicated photography gallery and centre. The exhibitions often include installation, video, and performance, and locals make the most of its huge technology lab, offering equipment hire, training and access to photographic facilities. In winter the nights are lit up by the projection of artist's films into their windows, while in August it usually pulls out all the stops for a major art festival exhibition – 2011's Stephen Sutcliffe exhibition was highly acclaimed.
23 Cockburn St, 0131-622 6200, stills.org. Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sun 11am-6pm

Edinburgh College of Art (ECA)

The ECA has exhibitions all year round, whether that's the degree show bonanza of June, the various student shows during term time or the annual major art star's arrival in August – from Sam Taylor Wood to Anish Kapoor. The Sculpture Court is the main exhibiting space: a neo-classical indoor courtyard lined with the original casts of the Parthenon frieze, unfortunately now yellowing thanks to an over-enthusiastic paint job by an earlier restorer. They make for an interesting counterpoint to the many variations of student work.
The University of Edinburgh, Lauriston Place, 0131-221 6000, eca.ac.uk. Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-2pm

Ingleby

This is an intriguing mix of a commercial gallery and an ambitious exhibition programme. Upstairs is an airy loft space, with windows looking onto the industrial iron of Waverley station; downstairs is a smaller gallery, which hosts more intimate works: a trail of precious stones is spattered across the floor, a remnant from an exhibition by Susan Collis – and on the other side is a print room where works by the gallery's artists can be purchased. Outside, its Billboard for Edinburgh project presents special commissions by big-name artists on, of course, a billboard. Previous commissions have included Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and Tacita Dean.
15 Calton Road, 0131-556 4441, inglebygallery.com. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm (August only), or by appointment

Rosamund West is editor of Scottish arts and culture website the Skinny


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10 of the best museums and galleries in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has plenty to see, from Concorde and Dolly the Sheep to huge collections in the Scottish National Galleries complex. Kirsty Scott picks her favourites

• As featured in our Edinburgh city guide

The Museum on the Mound

There has long been some form of museum in the bowels of the Bank of Scotland building on the Mound, now the Scottish HQ of Lloyds, but until 2006 entry was by appointment only and the displays were limited to one room. The Museum on the Mound opened five years ago, pre-financial crisis, and there is bleak humour to be found in the displays and their accompanying text: "Not just a respectable career, it also offered an opportunity for more leisurely pursuits … See what 'high jinks' staff got up to in their free time." There are seven rooms in total, detailing how money evolved over 4,000 years. One case holds £1m in used £20 notes.
The Mound, 0131-243 5464, museumonthemound.com, free. Open Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sat, Sun, bank holiday Mon 1pm-5pm

Surgeons' Hall Museums

In a glass cabinet in Surgeons' Hall Museums is a small hide-bound pocketbook the colour of strong tea. The wallet is made from the skin of William Burke, one half of Edinburgh's infamous body-snatchers and killers, Burke and Hare, whose victims were sold to the city's school of anatomy to be dissected. It is artefacts like this – and glass jars filled with gangrenous fingers, cancerous lungs, dried and varnished hearts – that have made the museum, tucked behind the Royal College of Surgeons, a favourite of crime writers. Look out for the silver mask, complete with an elaborate false moustache, fashioned by a doctor to hide the terrible injuries suffered in the siege of Antwerp in 1832 by a young soldier.
Royal College of Surgeons, Nicolson Street, 0131-527 1649, museum.rcsed.ac.uk, £5, concessions £3. Open Mon-Fri noon-4pm, Sun noon-4pm (2 April to 30 October only)

National Museum of Flight

Not within the city limits, but worth the short drive to East Fortune in East Lothian, this museum tells the story of flight from the Wright brothers to the present day in a series of converted hangars on a former RAF base. The big draw is Concorde, one of the 20 now-defunct aircraft, which was shipped to Scotland in 2004 for a special exhibit on supersonic flight. The child-friendly site includes 50 aircraft, and artefacts from both commercial and military aviation, including the fuselage of a Boeing 707.
East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, 0300 123 6789, nms.ac.uk, adults £9.50, concessions £7.50, children £4, under-fives free. Open daily 10am-5pm (April to October), Sat, Sun only 10am-4pm (November to March)

National Museum of Scotland

The grande dame of Edinburgh's museums only recently reopened after a three-year, £47m refurbishment, with 16 new galleries and 8,000 objects, 80% of which are being viewed for the first time. The stuffed animals are now out from behind glass and posed with video backdrops. Dolly the sheep is here, as is a 12m cast of a T-rex skeleton and the jawbone of a sperm whale. The new displays are more interactive, covering science, technology, transport and world cultures, and at the adjoining museum on the history of Scotland, you can see jewellery commissioned by Mary Queen of Scots and listen to the chuff and whistle of a 1923 Corliss steam engine that once powered a weaving mill.
Chambers Street, 0300 123 6789, nms.ac.uk, free. Open daily 10am-5pm

The Museum of Childhood

Skim through the visitors' book and you'll find tourists returning after 20 years, delighted to find that little has changed in this four-storey building. That is the charm of the place, opened in the 1950s to become the first museum devoted to a social history of childhood. Founder Joseph Patrick Murray built up an extensive collection of toys, games, clothes, teddy bears and dolls. The carpet is well-trodden, there are small chairs for small visitors, a puppet theatre and dressing-up area, and the PA system on the top floor pipes children's voices and nursery rhymes so that the noise permeates the building.
42 High Street, Royal Mile, 0131-529 4142, edinburghmuseums.org.uk, free. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm

Scottish National Gallery

One of the first pieces you will see is Titian's Venus Anadyomene, bought for the nation for more than £11m in 2003. The 500-year-old Renaissance work, described by the then director general Sir Timothy Clifford as a "very sexy lady", had hung in the gallery for 60 years on loan from the Duke of Sutherland. When he died in 2000, they were offered first refusal. A little further in are Canova's Three Graces, purchased jointly with the V&A in 1994. The ground level covers European art from the 16th to 19th centuries, the basement, the Scottish collection including Sir Henry Raeburn's Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.
The Mound, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org, free. Open Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 10am-5pm (August only 10am-6pm), Thurs 10am-7pm

Royal Scottish Academy

The RSA occupies the William Henry Playfair building closest to Princes Street, and is one of the UK's premier exhibition venues. This year's landmark show is a retrospective of the work of Elizabeth Blackadder, the Scots artist best known for her landscape, still life and flower paintings. Dame Elizabeth, the Queen's painter and limner in Scotland, turns 80 this year and the show spans six decades of her career. There are plenty of her trademark delicate studies of blossoms and blooms, but also lesser-known and bolder works from her many travels, particularly to Japan. The show runs until January 2012.
The Mound, 0131-225 6671, royalscottishacademy.org, admission to Blackadder exhibition £8, concessions £6. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm

City Art Centre

A former warehouse and part of the old Scotsman building, the CAC has a rolling programme of exhibitions showcasing a wide range of contemporary Scottish and international artists. Past events have included the Art of Star Wars – one of several to pull in more than 100,000 visitors. The current exhibition features the work of London-based Scot David Mach, known for his large-scale collages, sculptures and installations, and the main entrance is dominated by Mach's Golgotha tableau: three giant crucified figures pinned to steel girders. The public galleries are spread over six floors, and third floor has been temporarily given over to a studio space for Mach, where he has been working on a final piece for the exhibition – a decoupage depiction of the Last Supper. Visitors can wander by and watch the creative process, and the exhibition runs until 16 October.
2 Market Street, 0131-529 3993, edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venues/City-Art-Centre, free, David Mach exhibition – adults £5, concessions £3.50, children 5-15 £2.50. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Split between two buildings on either side of Belford Road, Modern One and Modern Two, the gallery houses the nation's collection of modern and contemporary art. Modern Two, previously the Dean Gallery, was built as an orphanage. An austere structure, it's home to a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art, and a collection of the works of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Across the waythe grounds of Modern One are dominated by Charles Jencks' Landform, a stepped and spiralling mound with reflecting pools. Inside, one of the more recently acquired works is The Mysterious Garden, a watercolour by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, some of whose studies hang nearby.
73/75 Belford Road, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org/modernartgalleries, free, a charge may be made for special exhibitions, parking £1 for four hours. Open daily 10am-5pm

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Due to re-open on 1 December – public sector strikes willing – after an £18m refurbishment, and those who have seen inside the distinctive red neo-gothic building, originally modelled on the Doges Palace in Venice, say the gloomy interiors are gone, replaced by 17 new, light, airy gallery spaces and themed exhibits. The gallery is home to the national collection of portraits and the national photography collection, with studies of great Scots from Robert Burns and David Hume to Sean Connery, Alex Ferguson and Tilda Swinton.
1 Queen Street, 0131-624 6200, nationalgalleries.org/portraitgallery, free. Open daily from 1 December, 10am-5pm

Kirsty Scott is a Guardian writer based in Scotland


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June 23 2010

Gormley sets Forth

Antony Gormley's latest sculptural project places six life-size figures between an Edinburgh gallery and the sea



March 17 2010

Edinburgh festival will reflect clash of cultures

Europe's colonisation of New World is central theme of 'exuberant' 64th event

The troubled history of Europe's colonisation of the New World and the survival of vibrant, flamboyant cultures across the Americas and the Pacific will be the core themes for the next Edinburgh international festival, organisers revealed.

This year's event, the 64th annual festival, will combine shows that boast exuberant dance alongside dark and troubling works exploring Europe's destruction of the Aztec civilisation.

Jonathan Mills, the festival's Australian director, said the 2010 festival would be a "conversation" between the old world of Europe and the new world of Australasia, the Pacific and the Americas.

Among the major productions will be the European premiere of an Australian opera by Brett Dean based on Bliss, the sardonic novel by Peter Carey about the life of a "prolapsed" advertising executive. It opened last week at Sydney Opera House

The festival will also feature work from Samoa, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, the US and New Zealand alongside a wide repertoire of work from Europe. Caledonia, a new satirical play about one of Scotland's greatest humiliations, the ill-fated attempt in 1698 to establish a colony at Darien in Panama, will be among those featured.

"If the 2008 festival was political in its dimensions and 2009 more philosophical in its ambitions, then 2010 is a festival about sensuality, texture, flamboyance — with a very important, serious message embedded in it," Mills said.

He said there was an important bridge which needed to be made between the old and new worlds.

"The New World wasn't new to the people who lived there but it was new to the European explorers who came there. So it has a kind of double-edge to it, some of it optimistic and some of it slightly dark," he said.

Despite its ambitions the festival has had to fight hard to secure its funding, with public grants and private sponsorship under intense pressure after the recession, said Mills and the leader of Edinburgh city council, Jenny Dawes.

Dawes had fought against a "mob" within the council, she said, who complained about having to cut money on schools and services while giving the festival a multimillion pound grant.

The festival had survived, but had to accept a cut of more than £10,000.

Mills said several new commercial backers had emerged, including the property company Arup and the Prudential. He had struck a series of deals with festivals abroad to co-produce new work including one of the major shows this year, Carl Heinrich Gruan's opera, Montezuma.

A co-production with partners in Germany, Mexico and Spain, it tells the story of the conquistadors' obliteration of the Aztecs.

"It's a story of the New World speaking back, poignantly, passionately, deplorably to the old world," he said.

He described the dance company Grupo Corpo, which is bringing two productions to the festival from the Brazilian Amazon region, as a "group with their bounces in all the right places".

"They're as sexy as all get-out, they're high-octane and energetic."

Mills disclosed that a major broadcasting deal with the BBC was imminent. He complained last year that the BBC had ignored the festival, particularly in its Scottish programming. BBC Radio 3 has agreed to record 28 concerts for later broadcast.

He confirmed that last year's festival had sold slightly fewer tickets than in 2008. The Edinburgh Fringe festival reported record ticket sales last year, while the book festival also hit a new high. But breaking records was not his objective, he insisted.

"My primary focus is on creating a great event, with great companies, great artists, great shows," he said. "As long as our audiences stand up in terms of numbers and are robust, and as long as the central idea is attractive enough, that's what really matters."

The director added that he had decided to extend his initial five-year contract for a further 12 months, continuing as director until 2012.

This year's opening concert will be El Nino, an oratorio by John Adams set "in a nowhere land" on the California-Mexico border which retells the nativity with a heavy Latin-American influence.

The American theme is underlined by the world premiere of work by New York's Elevator Repair Group, performances by the avant garde Meredith Monk, and an exuberant gospel version of the Gospel at Colonus featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama. Another world premiere will be by the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company who will perform Quimeras.

The environmental theme will be captured by Mau, a Samoan dance company expert in indigenous rituals from across the Pacific ocean. Their production, Birds with Skymirrors, refers to the vast island of plastic waste circulating in the mid-Pacific, which poisons and kills seabirds; if the seabirds survive to line their nests with tiny shards of plastic debris their nests can be a "glittering jewel".

"It's a parable for the times we live in," said Mills.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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