Tag Archives: Andrew Miller

Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part I

11 Aug

I am spending a lot of time in Edinburgh this month.  When I return I hope to visit all the National Galleries but for my first trip my somewhat ambitious plan was to see all the galleries in the Edinburgh Art Festival programme – over 45 exhibitions spread across the city.  I’m not quite sure what prompted this absurd idea but, needless to say, it didn’t happen – I was in Edinburgh working and also seeing a large amount of theatre.  Plus, when I arrived, the Art Festival hadn’t actually started as I found out the hard way (some things never change).

However, this didn’t stop me from seeing a few brilliant shows.

Edinburgh. Own photograph.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is one of my favourite art spaces in Edinburgh.  As well as having a fabulous art programme, they have a brilliant café.  So, it’s practically compulsory to be standing on their doorstep when they open at 10am to start the day with a bacon butty and a cup of piping hot tea.  This done, I was ready to see their current exhibition of Dieter Roth’s Diaries.  This exhibition is the first to focus on Roth’s diaries which he used not only to record appointments, addresses, etc., but also to note his ideas and drawings.  His diaries help us to understand his work and the thinking behind it.  They were an integral part of his life; he even had his suits altered in order that the diaries would fit comfortably in the pockets.

Dieter Roth’s diary. Own photograph.

Many of Roth’s works are presented as visual metaphors of diaries – Flat Waste records a year in his life in rubbish that is less than 1cm thick (I’ve read a fair few different comments on the actual measurements of the rubbish but 1cm is stated in the Fruitmarket bumph that accompanies the exhibition) and Solo Scenes records on 128 video monitors the last year of the artist’s life.

Dieter Roth, Flat Waste. Own photograph.

The rubbish in Flat Waste is presented in 623 ringbinders that together form an archive, housed in specially designed shelving units.  Between each cabinet, a lectern allows visitors to browse a selection of the binders in more detail to appreciate fully the anal precision of this task.  Roth didn’t censor his life and plastic wallets in the ringbinders are filled with random everyday items including orange peel, used tissues and toilet paper (don’t ask!).   There are some anomalies in the dates because a number of the volumes from the original year (1975-6) went missing and Roth decided to replace them with binders of rubbish from the same day in later years.  The folders are labelled in an compulsively consistent pattern.  Using rubbish to make a portrait of his life, Roth is without the forerunner of many artists who consider themselves to be radical.

Dieter Roth, Flat Waste. Own photograph.

Video art has never been my favourite medium but Solo Scenes is incredible, a gripping look at Roth going about his day-to-day activities: getting out of bed, cooking, eating, and even sitting on the toilet, in his homes and studios in Iceland, Switzerland and Germany.  Nowadays, we are familiar with the concept of a video diary but it was far less common when Roth first began experimenting with the idea.  Although many of the activities that Roth carries out are mundane and don’t differ much from our own routines, they allow us to monitor him in an obsessive fashion blurring the boundaries between life and art.  Yet, despite witnessing Roth at such personal moments, he says we don’t necessarily come any closer to understanding him as ‘who knows what people think?’.  The work only came to an end when Roth died of a heart attack – this is a truthful and honest portrayal.

Dieter Roth, Solo Scenes. Own photograph.

As with Flat Waste, Roth hides nothing from us and poignantly shows us the reality of his life – the good, the bad and the ugly.  The exhibition also includes some of Roth’s copybooks and actual diaries.  Roth was never an orthodox or predictable artist; this is an amazing exhibition, showing that everything he did fed into his art.  Indeed his whole life was a voyage, creating diaries that fulfilled his need for constant artistic production.  This was the first exhibition that I saw in Edinburgh and I already knew it was to be a highlight.  It stayed with me for days.

Dieter Roth, Solo Scenes. Own photograph.

Next, I crossed the road to City Art Centre who are showing an exhibition of works by Leslie Hunter.  Hunter was part of The Scottish Colourists who, although they never worked together as a foursome, are brought together by their love of bold colour that revitalised Scottish art – the influence of which can still be seen in the work of artists in Scotland today.

With over 50 works, the exhibition really allows us to get a feel for Hunter’s oeuvre but, having just experienced the moving poignancy of Roth’s work, this exhibition did nothing for me.  Hunter is obviously a good painter but he didn’t excite me.

Leslie Hunter, Peonies in a Chinese Vase, 1925. Image via www.theskinny.co.uk

Upstairs, is a complementary exhibition entitled The Scottish Colourists which shows Hunter’s influences and the work of those who have been influenced by him.  On the top floor is Human Race which I thought would require very little time – I was wrong.  Human Race celebrates pioneering developments in medical imagery, surgery and sports training in the last 200 years.  The exhibition uses intriguing objects from Scottish collections that date as far back as to the Bronze Age and is split into themes; there is an 1820s Hobby Horse, films, drawings and photographs, bone and muscle specimens, a St John’s Ambulance first aid kit from the 1950s and specimen jars used in modern-day anti-doping tests.  The objects could not be more diverse or informative without being overbearing.  There are also a number of commissioned artworks that take inspiration from objects in the exhibition and explore the many tensions that exist in sports and medicine.

Human Race at the City Art Centre. Own photograph.

Heading up the road to Stills, I discovered the gallery wasn’t yet open and it was at this point I found out that the EAF didn’t officially start for a couple of days.  Hmm…  Some people never learn and perhaps that’s me.  Collective, however, had opened so recently that it was still possible to smell the fresh paint in the gallery.  Sadly, this may be their last exhibition in their current Cockburn Street space as they are moving to the City Observatory later this year.  Lying and Liars is a site-specific installation that explores the conflict between storytelling and formal experimentation by mixing different sculptural and architectural forms.  This is a beautiful gallery and its large glass frontage offers multiple perspectives on the unusual exhibitions they mount.

Lying and Liars at Collective. Own photograph.

The next morning I headed to St Andrew’s Square to see another EAF commission; Andrew Miller’s The Waiting Place is this year’s pavilion and is a playful reinterpretation of a summerhouse in one of the busiest areas of the city.  The building is designed to show off an ambitious and ambiguous architectural form.  The title comes from Dr Seuss’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go where the protagonist finds himself in The Waiting Place, ‘a most useless place … for people just waiting’ for a variety of different things to happen.  The pavilion doesn’t have any particular function but can fulfil whatever the visitor needs: ‘Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No, or waiting for their hair to grow…’.  Even a tree makes use of the pavilion as it erupts from its roof.

Andrew Miller’s The Waiting Place. Own photograph.

Stills was still shut (!) so I climbed the Scotsman Steps, where Martin Creed’s Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation.  Creed re-generated these 104 steps so that every stair is now a different kind and colour of marble.  Last year, I observed that although the staircase is fit for royalty, the city rushes up and down without even noticing its spectacular beauty.  I am more and more convinced that this is the charm of the work.  It is so beautifully integrated into Edinburgh that it is easy to miss yet, when you spot it, you just have to stop and stare at the stairs.  Continuing further into town, I headed to the Talbot Rice Gallery which hadn’t yet opened either.  I began to think that theatre may be easier (my tweets will allow you to track what I saw) and stored my art map in my bag for my next trip.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 at the Scotsman Steps. Own photograph.

I never quite managed to be in one of the set spots at 1pm to hear Susan Philipsz’ Timeline but I’ll try again next week.  The work, in response to the One O’Clock Gun makes use of the artist’s own voice to call out across the city every day.  I’ve heard recordings and it’s wonderful.

The Art Festival really must be praised for not only the Guide that they produce but also the map.  This year it has been produced by renowned illustrator Peter Arkle – it’s helpful, comical and beautiful and I’ll carry on working my way through galleries on my return when, hopefully, they’ll be open.

Dieter Roth: Diaries is at The Fruitmarket Gallery until 14th October 2012, www.fruitmarket.co.ukLeslie Hunter: A Life in Colour is at City Art Centre until 14th October 2012 and Human Race: Inside the History of Sports Medicine is at City Art Centre until 9th September 2012, www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venues/city-art-centre.aspxMick Peter and B.S. Johnson: Lying and Liars is at Collective until 30th September 2012, www.collectivegallery.net.  Andrew Miller: The Waiting Place is in St. Andrew Square, www.edinburghartfestival.com.  Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation at The Scotsman Steps, www.martincreed.com.  Susan Philipsz: Timeline can be heard daily at 1pm outside Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill, at Old Calton Cemetery, on North Bridge, on Waverley Bridge, behind the National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound and in West Princes Street Gardens.

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A Gallop around Glasgow – Part I

7 Jan

No journey of mine seems to be without a little drama and trying to get to Glasgow in early January in gale force winds should not be attempted by the fainthearted.  When my alarm went off at 5.30am, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be my smoothest journey.

Although Virgin Trains are great at replying on twitter, they’re not so good at communicating to those actually on their trains.  We didn’t even manage to leave Euston before having to change trains – Train One was apparently defective and unfixable.  Not a good start. Train Number Two abandoned us at Preston (a friend has since commented that just the thought of me stuck at Preston made him laugh) where due to re-platforming we were able to experience the delights of every station platform.  I think they were trying to keep us warm by moving us around so frequently!  Train Number Three, however, was a winner and, although late, nearly jeopardising my schedule, it delivered us safe and sound.

After a wonderful, oversized pizza at the Firebird, we headed to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – the raison d’être for this whole trip.  My learned companion is studying for an MA in Egyptology and her thesis focuses on Sekhmet statues.  Rather ironically, the two here are on loan from the British Museum.  After the academic necessities were completed, we went to explore the museum.  There is no denying that Kelvingrove has an amazing and broad collection but the curation struck me as rather messy.  The rooms are thematic though, often, without coherent logic; dead-ends confront you and, without rhyme or reason, random objects crop up at regular intervals.  Kelvingrove is also very child-orientated in its forms of display; they clearly know their punters but this method often excludes a more mature audience.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Own photograph.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross – a controversial painting from 1951.  It is displayed alongside a remarkable ink study that was given, by the artist, to the then director of the Glasgow Art Gallery.  The drawing highlights Dalí’s daring in working towards the extreme angle of Christ’s body.

Salvador Dalí, Study of Christ of St John of the Cross, 1952. Own photograph.

The room of French art includes a Van Gogh alongside works by Pissarro, Seurat, Millet and Monet (I guess the room is looking at art painted in France rather than at French artists) but offers a more traditional gallery experience with a coherent layout and more structured feel.  Following this is a room of Fragile Art – I didn’t know what to expect but it seems this is a rather strange term being coined for works on paper.  There are some great things at Kelvingrove, if you have the patience to look, but the mess deterred us and, instead, we left and walked through the courtyards of the splendid University of Glasgow.  With only time to admire its architecture, we hurried past the Hunterian Museum – one of the leading university museums in the UK, showing the vast and varied private collection of its founder, Dr William Hunter (older brother to John who founded London’s Hunterian) – to Mackintosh House.

The Hunterian Museum. Own photograph.

 Glasgow is famous for two Mackintoshes – the inventor of the waterproof raincoat, Charles Mackintosh, and the unrelated artist, designer and architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Mackintosh House comprises the reassembled interiors of the house lived in by the Mackintoshes from 1906-14 (what was 6 Florentine Terrace, approximately 100 metres away).  Although the house was demolished in the 1960s, the original features and designs were preserved and great pains have been taken to ensure the sequence of rooms exactly reflects its forerunner.  Its recreation was no easy task and, although not everything about this house pretends to be accurate, the reproduction is as faithful as possible.  It was decided not to replicate the sandstone façade of the original house and, instead, the key features (the front door and principal windows) are encased in rough cast concrete.

Mackintosh House. Own photograph.

Particularly striking is the studio-drawing room on the first floor.  The geometry, unity and clarity of this L-shaped interior is stunning.  Flooded with light, the rear section was, fittingly, used as a studio where each of the three walls was filled with a major object as its centrepiece – a gesso panel by his wife, Margaret Macdonald, a white bookcase and the dark-stained writing cabinet.  This is more for display than practical use and it lacks much of the additional support required to act as a functional everyday object but there can be no debate about the beauty of its design.  I would say this room was Mackintosh at his best but every time I see one of his works I am blown away and have a new favourite.  To my mind, there can be no debate about the perfection of everything he did.

The studio-drawing room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The second floor was shut which meant we missed seeing the bedroom but we saw enough to be captivated and eager for the Mackintosh on day two of my itinerary.

The dining room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

Mackintosh House is found within The Hunterian Art Gallery, the rest of which is also brilliant and made up for my disappointment at our first stop.  As well as housing a small, superb collection of 18th century portraits (where I happily went back to my roots), two aspects particularly struck me.  One focused on the art of the poster with works from the gallery’s print collection, focusing on posters as important social-historic documents.  Including works by Mackintosh (of course) and Lautrec’s Jane Avril, which I’ve recently seen at The Courtauld, the posters all successfully combine simplified forms, bold colours and dramatic viewpoints.

Posters at the Hunterian Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The other aspect was the works by James McNeil Whistler; I had no idea that the University of Glasgow houses one of the world’s pre-eminent collections of Whistler’s works having been bequeathed the entire estate by his heir, Rosalind Birnie Philip.  The gallery’s airy layout is perfect for his seascapes; painted ‘en plein air’, these are small-scale, portable panels to which Whistler directly applied paint.  The near-abstracted detail is jewel-like.

The Hunterian Art Gallery.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The other fascinating find was his cartoon for The Fighting Peacocks – a full-size, highly-expressive drawing for the principal mural in the Peacock Room.  Pricked for transfer, the work shows Whistler’s retaliation to a quarrel.  Having overstepped his brief by decorating the entire room, Frederick Leyland refused to pay beyond the price agreed for the smaller commission.  The confrontational peacocks symbolise Whistler as art and Leyland as money, with coins scattered at his feet.

James McNeil Whistler, Cartoon of Rich and Poor Peacocks, 1876.  Image via www.huntsearch.gla.ac.uk

Thursday evening is late night at GoMA (Glasgow’s Modern Art Gallery) and so I was able to squeeze in another visit before dinner.  Downstairs, You, Me, Something Else considers the definition of sculpture today, looking at the progression of sculpture and how it has radically changed over time.  The room is intended to act as a 21st century sculpture court with objects suspended from the ceiling, leaning against columns, lying on the floor or, presented in a more traditional style, on plinths.  The media is varied but the artists are united by a common concern for physical experience and material form.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re an architectural fan), the architecture dominates much of the works but Andrew Miller’s Shaded, a tower of lampshades and fluorescent lights, stood out for me as the most effective work in this show.

You, Me, Something Else at GoMA. Own photograph.

After a long day in heels, we were starting to feel tired so took the lift to the top of the gallery and worked our way down.  Upstairs is an exhibition celebrating Glasgow Museum’s recent purchases of international contemporary art, understandably prioritising Scottish artists and those who studied at the Glasgow School of Art.  The main piece is a work by Martin Boyce, comprising daybeds, a bin, a wall-mounted mobile, ventilation grills and fluorescent ‘light-trees’, that aims to evoke a cinematic moment in a fictitious night-time urban environment.   As always with Boyce, the references are wide-ranging and complex, making you consider the work on many different levels.

Martin Boyce, Our Love is Like the Earth, the Sun, the Trees, the Birth, 2003. Own photograph.

Continuing down the stairs, we came across Atelier Public, a public artists’ studio to be used by gallery visitors, and an exhibition of works by Alasdair Gray – not really to my taste but he is obviously a talented draughtsman.

We were shattered and our bodies had gone into art-overload.  After dinner at Stravaigin, we collapsed at Saint Jude’s on Bath Street in our divine penthouse suite, re-energising ourselves in readiness for day two of this Glasgow adventure.

Saint Jude’s. Own photograph.

All these galleries have a regularly changing exhibition programme: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and GoMA, www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; The Hunterian, http://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/.

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