Tag Archives: Fruitmarket Gallery

It’s Edinburgh time again…

18 Aug

The Edinburgh Art Festival is always a highlight of my August and I decided to start with the big players and see the blockbuster shows first of all.

The National Galleries of Scotland are showing a Peter Doig exhibition – a homecoming for the Edinburgh born artist although I don’t think many would instantly associate him with Scotland.  After all, he moved to Trinidad when he was two and, despite much moving around in the meantime, he has now moved back there.  The exhibition focuses on works from the last ten years and, naturally, his paintings reflect more the Trinidadian lifestyle and culture than the rugged Scottish landscape.

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Peter Doig, Paragon, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Doig really is a master of paint.  One of the highlights for me, and I’m sure for many others too, was Man Dressed as Bat from 2007 – a beautifully washed out work that can no doubt be read as a study in evanescence and transparency. Before Doig started this work, the canvas was affected by rain coming into the studio. Doig liked the effect and allowed it to suggest an approach to the painting whereby successive layers of paint barely mask those underneath.  The result is ghostlike; we are trapped in a dream that slowly reveals itself to us. There are other similar works with an equally wonderful diaphanous texture.  Although I don’t like all of Doig’s works, it is his subtlety and the transparent fading hues that form his true masterpieces and this exhibition captures the impressive quality of Doig’s oeuvre showing his over-riding commitment to one media.

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Peter Doig, Man Dressed as Bat, 2007. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org

One room shows his Studio Film Club Posters – Doig and Lovelace established this club in 2003 and Doig made hand-painted posters to advertise the weekly films that have a raw spontaneous quality almost reflecting some of the makeshift signs found in Trinidad.  The paintings throughout the exhibition have been arranged in a way to challenge each other and show the development of ideas through his works.  Doig does not paint from real life but devises his images from diverse sources including photographs, films and even memories.  This does sometimes make it hard to connect truly with the canvases – they aren’t abstract but they aren’t fully present, they remain tantalisingly inaccessible to us, trapped in Doig’s own ‘foreign land’.  His works linger in one’s mind and don’t quite disappear, the ghostly images calling from room to room.

Although I was short of time, with the Fruitmarket Gallery just across Princes Street Gardens, I couldn’t resist a quick visit.

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Princes Street Gardens. Own photograph. 

This summer their focus is on Gabriel Orozco and the exhibition takes his 2005 painting The Eye of Go as a starting point – a computer-generated pattern of black circles.  The thinking behind this show requires time and concentration but demonstrates the enormous range of materials and practices he uses to exploit the circle’s capacity to be an ‘instrument’ rather than just a geometric form in a composition.  His re-workings of this motif are rigorous and obsessive.  Circles appear as gestural sweeps of ink on paper, or points on meticulous grids in pen and graphite, as cuttings, inscriptions on tickets, letters and photographs and cedar wood, as wet pools of colour or dense ink impressions and shaded graphite spheres.  The possibilities are endless.  But these are far from just circles and at times you almost forget that this is the focus of the exhibition so fascinating are the works.

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Gabriel Orozco, The Eye of Go, 2005. Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com

You may not automatically think of an exhibition around circles to be the most dynamic that you will see but this exhibition seeks to shine light on Orozco’s practice and diverse methods.

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Upstairs at Fruitmarket Gallery. Own photograph.

I decided to have an art day and headed over to Modern One for what has to be described as a sublime exhibition – From Death to Death and Other Small Tales – which I was lucky enough to be shown around by Simon Groom as part of a Courtauld alumni event.  The title stems from a Joseph Beuys work and the exhibition seeks to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works reference the body explicitly while others make subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  The works presented often confront art historical tradition through similarity in subject matter.

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Sarah Lucas, Bunny Gets Snookered, 1997. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

There are the works we’d expect such as Sarah Lucas’s Bunny Gets Snookered which picks up on the tradition of full frontal female nudes.  But for it to be seen in this context is unusual and it really is good.  Every show about the body has to have a Tracey Emin and we aren’t left disappointed but then there are also some extraordinary surprises, particularly the 15 or so rarely seen works by American artist Robert Gober.  These turn everything on its head, often focusing on duality and collision of ideas.

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Robert Gober, Untitled (Torso), 1990. Image via www.thisispipe.com

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain for once is not taking centre stage.  Here, it is removed from its pedestal and placed in a corner, allowing the other works to come forward and take their rightful place in the spotlight.  Chadwick’s Piss Flowers are very simple but utterly beautiful.  Chadwick pissed in the snow and cast the remains, memorialising something that did not even exist.

The smell permeating through the ground floor galleries comes from Ernesto Neto’s labyrinth-like installation, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time where columns, made from gauze, are weighed down with aromatic spices, dividing the space. It is a very contradictory piece that feels like it was made for the space.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes all of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series in one gallery – five feature length films set in a folkloric world of his own invention.  It would take a day to get through these incredible films and, indeed, I was quite upset I hadn’t known sooner that they were here.  Seeing them all together in this incredible performance/installation is mind-blowing.  Not many rooms are given over to one single artist but this room is all-encompassing and mesmerising.

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A still from the Cremaster series. Image via www.artsbournemouth.org.uk

Nearly every work in this exhibition deserves a mention which is a surprising feat (there are of course always some pieces that don’t float your boat and I will never be a fan of Paul McCarthy’s Pirate Party that takes over an entire room and can be heard in a couple of others).  I’m used to exhibitions at Modern One occupying only the ground floor but this one is so extensive it takes over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality, playing to the gallery’s own strengths while showing their curatorial expertise.  It’s fabulous with contrasting atmospheres throughout.  This is an opportunity to see works that get very little exposure. The gallery have created an exhibition that really works without compromise.  There aren’t many wall texts around the exhibition – we are allowed to make up our own minds without intervention and can then read the excellent catalogue at a later date.

This exhibition has been open since the end of last year and is closing early in September.  If you were having an urge to pop to Edinburgh then seize it – after all you can always go for the day like I crazily did last week.

I popped back to London for a few days last week too and took the opportunity to see Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece which is currently transforming the Roundhouse.  As a Shawcross fan, this was always going to be a winner for me.  He describes the piece as ‘an engine driving a functioning clock’.  Each hand is fitted with a 1000-watt bulb and solely the light from the installation illuminates the room.  The shadows are sent over the entire Roundhouse creating a huge sundial.

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Conrad Shawcross at the Roundhouse. Own photograph.

We are normally used to seeing the Roundhouse as a concert venue filled with loud noise and hubbub.  Timepiece has completely transformed the space.  It is now one of hushed contemplation with people sitting on the floor gazing at the four-metre high contraption as it rotates and moves at different speeds.  The work is poetic and isn’t just something to take a quick glance at.  It deserves consideration.  Ironically it is easy to lose track of time watching Timepiece work its magic.

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Peter Doig, No Foreign Lands is at the Scottish National Gallery until 3rd November, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Gabriel Orozco: Thinking in Circles is at Fruitmarket Gallery until 18 October, http://fruitmarket.co.uk/.  From Death to Death and Other Small Tales | Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D.Daskalopoulos Collection is at Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) until 8th September, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece is at the Roundhouse until 25th August, http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/conrad-shawcross-timepiece

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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.

Frantic at the Fringe – Part I

20 Aug

I have a tendency to overdo it when I go to Edinburgh for the Fringe.  As soon as the Fringe Guide is released in June, I plan our schedule and come August we’re raring to go.

This year we only had three days in which to ‘do’ the Fringe and I managed to timetable 12 productions and 10 galleries plus nice restaurants in which to give our feet a break and our bodies a cocktail or two (or three).  Tempting as it is, I’m not going to mention the theatre side of the Fringe after this very brief paragraph.  Suffice to say it was fantastic.  Highlights were Out of the Blue (an amazing Oxford all-male a cappella group), 2401 Objects (Analogue Productions’ remarkable story of the world’s most famous amnesiac patient), Manscaping by Russell Kane (a comic genius who had us in stitches for an hour), Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus (an exciting modern rendition of Sophocles’ play), Fat Kitten vs the World (a brilliant improvised comedy group and one to watch for future years), Audience – Ontroend Goed (one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Fringe) and Ten Plagues (telling one man’s struggle through a city in dire crisis).  But, I had to start with seeing some art…

Audience – Ontroend Goed. Image via http://utopiaparkway.wordpress.com

Anish Kapoor’s Flashback at the Edinburgh College of Art features two works – his early seminal pigment piece, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers (1982), and the new Untitled, a self-generating wax sculpture, exhibited here for the first time in the UK.  In White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers Kapoor places a strong emphasis on the relationships between the forms, presenting contrasts and similarities between these initially highly varied sculptures.

Anish Kapoor, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, 1982. Own photograph.

Untitled recalls his two crimson wax-works that were so popular at last year’s Royal Academy retrospective.  Here, a large steel-cutter journeys around a circular track, maintaining the blood-red bell sculpture that stands over 5 metres tall.  The journey is relentless yet almost invisible.  Those of you familiar with the girolle that shaves tête de moine cheese will understand the principle.  In the Classical setting of the ECA, Untitled resembles a memorial monument – the bell suggesting pain and death, the stillness presenting a solemnity.  From a distance, the bell appears smooth and lifeless.  Moving closer, the wax is blemished and damaged, stuck to the edge of the steel.  The sculpture is both beautiful and horrific, playful yet serious.  This was a wonderful start to the Edinburgh Art Festival and I was ready for more.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2010. Own photograph.

In the same building is Body Bags: Simonides, an exhibition that incorporates the ECA’s famous collection of Classical sculpture.  The Greek poet, Simonides, is famous for his epitaphs for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae.  Here, his poetic fragments are translated by Robert Crawford and juxtaposed with photographs by Norman McBeath that provoke a contemplation on loss.

Body Bags: Simonides. Own photograph.

Next, it was time for one of the Fringe blockbusters and to see the work of a Scottish artist.  David Mach’s Precious Light is a revelation (excuse the pun).  I know Mach from his amazing assembled postcard-collage portraits but beyond those, I wasn’t that familiar with the rest of his oeuvre and how far his collage genius extends.

This is the biggest exhibition Mach has ever staged.  The works tell the story of the Bible (no wonder it took him 10 years to plan and four years to execute), focusing on the King James Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year and was the first Bible to be produced en masse.  In the entrance and free for all to see is Mach’s Golgotha, three crucified figures screaming with pain, nails impaling them at every conceivable point.  Regardless of your religious beliefs and how you connect with these works, they provoke immediate reaction – awe, disgust, bewilderment, fear…  The strength of Golgotha overpowers some of the sculpture in the upper galleries such as his matchstick head of Jesus which cannot compete.

David Mach, Golgotha, 2011. Own photograph.

We are more used to seeing Biblical subjects depicted in darkened oils by the Old Masters yet Mach’s dynamic collages have a raw edge.  Collage is an incredibly time-consuming medium with which to work and the intricacy of his detail is superb.   It’s easy to get lost in Mach’s world, fascinated by his characters, their actions and behaviour.  The works are serious but playful, commenting not only on religious history but the disparities in today’s worldwide cultures.  Hell is ironically depicted in Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, Disneyland (here overrun by riots, fighting, religious animosity and disaster) while Heaven is shown through simple and innocent pleasures across the four seasons.  Autumn is particularly luminescent and Mach’s use of colour radiates across the room.  The works require close inspection as well as viewing from a distance.  Money Lenders, hung alongside the escalator, does allow you to soak up the detail but fails to offer adequate space to see the work as a whole.

David Mach, Hell – Paris. Image via www.oranges-and-apples.com

Mach’s London Studio has temporarily relocated to the third floor of the City Art Centre for visitors to watch the final exhibition work being created.  This monumental piece, The Last Supper, will be unveiled on 20th September.  It is fascinating to watch the work in progress and it also breaks up the exhibition nicely.  The fourth floor is given over to the history and language of the Bible itself but, to be honest, I was exhausted by the time I reached this level.  As you journey through the building, the volume of work lessens.   Rather than the initial overload, it would have been better if the works were more spread out.  This is a huge exhibition, spread over five floors and, if anything, it is too big.  As I was conscious of the time, it was impossible for me to spend as much time with each piece as I would have liked.  This exhibition is a tour de force, a powerful portrayal of our modern world in Mach’s own inimitable style.

David Mach, Noah and the Ark. Image via www.davidmach.com

Time was ticking by and I crossed the road to the Fruitmarket Gallery, one of my favourite Edinburgh spaces.  I had never before heard of the American artist, Ingrid Calame who finds a unique visual vocabulary in the ground, tracing individual stains, cracks and markings from specific sites and turning them into artworks.  On first glance, I thought these were just pretty coloured patterns but when you learn of the principle behind these works, they are fascinating, transposing the ground we are walking on into art.  Her constellations (as she calls the layered patterns) move the ground to the wall.

Ingrid Calame. Own photograph.

Her wall drawing, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, has been specially made for this exhibition.  Working in a slightly different style to her other pieces, Calame has pricked tiny holes through what is effectively a large transfer drawing, leaving pure pigment on the wall.  It focuses on the graffiti at one site and how it has changed and developed over a two-year period.  The works are about collecting evidence.  What first appear to be pretty pictures are actually full of an unimaginable depth about society’s imprint on the world.

Ingrid Calame, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, 2011. Own photograph.

Whenever I now walk up the Fruitmarket staircase I think of last year’s exhibition where Martin Creed had transformed the stairs into a musical scale.  As you walked onto each stair, a note sounded.  The higher you ascended, the higher the note and the larger your smile.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1061, 2010. Own photograph.

Creed is never far away in Edinburgh and, to make up for my disappointment that the musical stairs have disappeared, I went to visit his Work No. 1059 at The Scotsman Steps just across the road.  Creed has re-generated these 104 steps; every stair is now a different kind and colour of marble and a leaflet produced by Fruitmarket Gallery, who commissioned the work in a bid to help restore this dilapidated staircase, lists all the different marbles and their origins.  The staircase is fit for royalty and yet the city rushes up and down it without even noticing the spectacular beauty beneath their feet.  Perhaps 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.  Creed lives in Italy where it is not at all unusual to have marble underfoot and he has brought a piece of this Italian luxury to Edinburgh, to a staircase that acts as a thoroughfare in the centre of a busy city right next to Waverley station, linking the old and the new towns.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1059, 2011. Own photograph.

Walking back up Cockburn Street, I popped into Stills who are showing works by Stephen Sutcliffe, an artist fascinated with the idea of high culture and its representation in film and on television, and then into Collective, who have an installation entitled Remains of the Day by Hans Schabus.  This exhibition was met with derisory comments by my Fringe buddy who thought the work looked like a larger version of her recycling pile on a Sunday evening.  Yes, she’s not that far off as the work is an accumulation of rubbish by the artist and his family during one calendar year that has been installed, cleaned and displayed linearly along the gallery space.  The work is visible from outside or you can go inside and climb over the mounds of rubbish to fully explore the space.  Through his installation, Schabus questions the spatial layout of the gallery and subverts the standard exhibition experience.  He asks us to consider our relationship to the goods we use and the scarcity of certain products.  This is a good and interesting exhibition for a quick peek, either from the street or inside if you’ve got the time.

Hans Schabus, Remains of the Day, 2011. Own photograph.

And that’s a morning at the Fringe.  We slowly ambled back up the Mile to the Witchery for my favourite fish pie in Edinburgh.  By now you’ve probably realised that this trip necessitated a fair bit of walking. Sticking to my guns though, I wore skater boots for my first day of adventures over the cobbles.  Up and down various staircases, climbing hills, around galleries, running to venues – I was practically crippled by the end of Day One.  But it was worth it!

At the Edinburgh College of Art, Anish Kapoor, Flashback is on until 9th October 2011 and Body Bags: Simonides  is on until 9th September 2011, www.eca.ac.uk.  David Mach, Precious Light, is at the City Art Centre until 16th October 2011, www.edinburghmuseums.org.ukIngrid Calame is at the Fruitmarket Gallery until 9th October 2011, www.fruitmarket.co.uk.  Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation at The Scotsman Steps, www.martincreed.com.  Stephen Sutcliffe: Runaway, Success is at Stills until 30th October 2011, www.stills.orgHans Schabus: Remains of the Day is at Collective Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.collectivegallery.net.

A Salon for Summer: the RA’s Summer Exhibition

5 Jun

It’s that crazy time of year again – the summer season has begun.

Since the Royal Academy’s Foundation in 1768, the Summer Exhibition has been an annual fixture.  Historically, the exhibition was an opportunity for Royal Academicians to showcase their work but, today, it is renowned as the show where amateurs stand proudly alongside the gods of the modern-day art world.  It is part of the social calendar with all the glossies covering the grand party that marks the opening.  It is the show that is hated by the art world (many don’t even bother to visit) but it is packed every day until August.  You couldn’t hold this exhibition without the expected criticism.  Now, I won’t pretend that I’m not a Summer Exhibition critic but I did enjoy this year’s more than most.

Visitors at The Summer Exhibition.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’d been eagerly anticipating the exhibition since Jeff Koons’ sculpture was installed in the courtyard a few weeks ago.  Although quite abstract, the work stems from a line drawing of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh – one of my all-time favourite children’s’ books.  Koons explores the joyous playfulness of child-like marks in a colouring book.

Jeff Koons, Colouring Book.  Own photograph.

Royal Academicians Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig-Martin (both of whom have wonderful works on display) have played major roles in this year’s curation.  Key to the changes introduced this year is that there is no theme.  I applaud their decision to accept the random nature of the exhibition and to go with it.

Unusually this year, visitors enter the exhibition through the central octagon filled with large-scale photographic works and Martin Creed’s Work No. 998 (familiar from his exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, last year) where he has stacked chairs one on top of the other.  Although the chairs are different from each other they appear the same through the calming influence of rhythm, sequence and harmony.

Martin Creed, Work No. 998.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

 The selling point of the show has been the ‘Salon Hang’ in the RA’s grandest space.  Room III is certainly a success but, ironically, what I think works best is that it isn’t quite as crammed as in previous years.  The Royal Academy was originally housed at what is now The Courtauld Gallery and an 18th century salon hang was a dense floor-to-ceiling collective of works where the prime positions were ‘on the line’, a moulding placed at eye level.  This was excellently re-created in the ambitious exhibition, Art On The Line, in 2002.

Art On The Line, The Courtauld Gallery, 2002, curated by Professor David Solkin.  Image www.courtauld.ac.uk

Although not necessarily as busy as these hangs once were, Le Brun has followed traditional ideals with pieces radiating out from the large-scale works in the centre of each long wall.  He wanted visitors to find their own way through the gallery rather than being controlled by curatorial ideas.  He succeeds.  The strong grey wall colour suits the gravitas of many of the pieces on display.

Room III.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

For me, in this room and across the whole exhibition, Keith Tyson’s Deep Impact has to take first prize.  This mixed media on aluminium is a burning fire of molten fury, the swirling colours conjuring passion, turmoil and power, grabbing viewers’ attention as they amble through the thousands of works on display.

Keith Tyson with his work, Deep Impact.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

It is very hard to discuss this exhibition without pinpointing particular works.  As ever, at the Summer Exhibition, the best works stand out and the others merge into a panoply of dross.  I clacked around (the RA floors have some of the best heel acoustics in London) clutching my champagne, list of works and pen, noting interesting pieces.  But, flicking back, I now see I circled more than I expected so I will try to be brief.

Anselm Kiefer’s Aurora haunts the Large Weston Room.  This room, usually subdivided into sections on one side, has been left open and this is very successful.  There are still loads of works but, finally, there is the space to see them.

The Lecture Room, curated by Craig-Martin with his own specially invited artists, gathers together all the famous names of art with Allen Jones, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin himself, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville, Anish Kapoor, Christopher Le Brun, Antony Gormley, Richard Long… I could go on!  The works are all signature pieces from the artists as Craig-Martin wished the works to reveal ‘the true, distinct, and singular voice of an individual artist’.

Allen Jones, Think Pink.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There are the usual ‘pretty’ works (Ice-Hiss by Vanessa Cuthbert and Mr Muscle by Tor Hildyard) and, yes, there is a lot of rubbish (including some disappointing pieces from big names) and the last room is particularly weak.  But, if you search thoroughly, there are some wonderful things: David Nash’s Funnel, an amazing severed trunk that we can peer through, and Dae Kwon’s 250510R, that has won the Jack Goldhill award, both stood out for me.

Dae Kwon, 250510R.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Dog In a Bin by Simon Brundret is a kinetic sculpture made from silicone, rubber, bin and a motor, showing a dog devouring rubbish.  There is no doubt that this has the novelty factor but it left me with a smile.  I dare you not to look at it and grin.

Simon Brundret, Dog In A Bin.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

The RA receives no public money and the Summer Exhibition generates much revenue for the gallery.  Sales from the Summer Show also contribute to funding the RA schools (the only non-fee paying UK art school) which produce some of our greatest artists.

No-one is pretending that the Summer Exhibition is a collection of the best art in the UK today – accept it for what it is and enjoy it for all those reasons.  It is a gathering both of art and people, a mish-mash and an essential fixture in our summer calendar that provides an opportunity to see what’s going on in all echelons of the art world.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy opens on 7th June until 15th August 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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