Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art sees new additions
SCOTLAND boasts, in the work held by its National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, a truly world-class collection of the art of the early Modernists and their successors. It is incredibly encouraging to find – in this recently opened exhibition of newly acquired works – that the collection continues to be enhanced by the purchase and donation of some major and fascinating pieces.
Composed largely of works introduced into the collection over the past five years, this large exhibition (free to the public) occupies the entire ground floor of Modern 1 (the first of the two buildings that make up the gallery). It is an excellent show, impressive in its diversity, worthy of being featured in galleries around the world.
Perhaps the most important acquisition is The Horse Rider (below) by the great Judeo-Belarusian artist Marc Chagall. Painted between 1949 and 1953, this beautiful fantasy in blues and yellows reflects Chagall’s fascination with the circus (a recurring theme in his work).
Executed using Chagall’s preferred gouache method (in which the pigment is ground in water and thickened with a gooey substance), the painting is striking with the depth of the blue in which the artist depicts the night sky. Its dreamlike, almost mythical quality – a semi-abstract trapeze artist watches over the beautiful rider as she leads her stoic pastel blue horse – has parallels with the allusive work of the great Andalusian writer Federico GarcÃa Lorca.
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In the Hall of Works which adds to the gallery’s already substantial collection of surrealist art, we find one of Salvador DalÃ’s famous lobster telephones (pieces which are, in my opinion, exceptionally penetrable, in their commentary). apparent on telecommunications difficulties). Importantly, the gallery recognizes the need to add more works by female artists to its surreal collection.
Leonora Carrington’s striking portrayal of her lover, Surrealist colleague Max Ernst, is perhaps the most fascinating among the newly acquired works by surrealist women. The Anglo-Mexican painter portrays a somewhat impenetrable Ernst in a frozen landscape.
In the work, the German artist carries a lantern containing a small horse (often a symbol with which Carrington represented himself). It is an irresistibly ambiguous and brilliantly executed painting.
While the major works are in the main rooms of the gallery, visitors to the exhibition would do well to pay attention to the pieces on display in the adjoining hallway. For example, the exquisite little pencil drawings by English artist Marie Harnett (a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art), depicting moments from Brazilian bio-peak Heleno, are absolutely captivating.
Breathtakingly precise, these black and white images (like that of a glamorous singer, her outstretched arms dressed in long satin gloves) are part of the centuries-old tradition of artistic miniaturism. They also recall the technical brilliance of the remarkable photographic paintings of Gerhard Richter.
Other contemporary works include Graham Fagen’s four-screen video installation The Slave’s Lament. This moving piece shows reggae artist Ghetto Priest and the Scottish Ensemble performing Robert Burns’ lead song, set to music by Sally Beamish.
Wangechi Mutu’s series of collages on the representation of the female body, and the body of black women in particular, is fascinatingly powerful.
Damien Hirst’s bronze sculpture Wretched War has classic Goya horror.
Jenny Saville’s Study for Branded – a preparatory painting for a larger nude self-portrait – is a resounding and uncompromising work of feminist realism. Add to that some deeply interesting pieces from artists as diverse as Bridget Riley, Steven Campbell, and Elisabeth Frink, and these newcomers make for an exceptional exhibit.
The exhibition is on display until spring 2023