Tam's Tales

- Modern Art - An Exercise in Mick Taking?

Dean Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

Modern Art...
I am feeling like a bit of a rant. Modern art does that to me - after seeing some 'ground-breaking' exhibit of a pile of dried elephant dung or a room devoted to a solitary light turning on and, unsurprisingly off, I feel like shouting: "This emperor has no clothes - the artist is taking the mick - it is complete rubbish"

I think that the vast majority of I think that the vast majority of modern art is artless, craftless, blatant, vulgar and ugly. There, I feel better, already.

There is a rich irony in all of this due to the fact that I spend a fair amount of time in the two galleries in Edinburgh that are devoted to modern art. One is the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art which was formerly a school. Just across the road is the Dean Gallery, which was built as an orphanage in Victorian times.

I like these places for a number of reasons. Often they have interesting exhibitions. Recently I enjoyed an impressive collection of pictures taken, in black and white, by a German photographer in the twenty or so years up to the death of his son at Nazi hands in 1944.

The Scottish Colourists Retain Their Appeal
Other outstanding exhibitions have been ones devoted to the Scottish Colourists, the groups of Scottish painters who transformed the drab painting found on many Scottish walls prior to the First World War. The best of these, Peploe, Cadell (that's one of his paintings on the right), Fergusson and Leslie Hunter remain very popular and often change hands for big money. These artists' works can transform a room and are reminiscent of the great French Impressionists such as Monet, Degas or Matisse. Like the French Impressionist, the Scottish Colourists always deliver something to me. They are often pretty, decorative pictures, but they stop short of 'chocolate box' cliché.

I suppose you could say that I like some modern art, particularly if it is not all that modern. The two Edinburgh galleries always seem to be stuck in a bit of a bind in that they have extensive collections of art that has ceased to be very modern, such as the Colourist stock, which people generally like. They also feel obliged to exhibit cutting edge work whose paint is hardly dry. These works are generally unpopular. It is not just me who loathes some of it or is supremely indifferent to the majority of anything produced in the last three decades.

Of course there is more to an art gallery than its actual contents. Both the Edinburgh galleries are fabulous buildings, built in the 19th Century to neoclassical designs - that's the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art pictured above and the Dean Gallery at the top of the page. Both are set in beautiful grounds and from the Dean Gallery one can explore the wonderfully gothic Dean Cemetery which is next door and is easily accessed.

Both galleries serve excellent food, ranging from a cup of coffee and a scone through to light lunches and afternoon tea..

And Another Thing…

One last thing. If you go to the Dean Gallery among the garish slogans, the crude oversized drawing of a fox and a sheep, an odd construction that looks a bit like an open topped bus shelter and another exhibit reminiscent of football goalposts without the netting, you will see a vegetable allotment.

It has nothing to do with the gallery at all, other than the fact that it is in a small plot of land between the building and the nearby road. I think it has more beauty in it than in many of the exhibits.

But there is an exception to every rule. The sculpture by the artist Eduardo Paolozzi of a robot-like man is rather wonderful. The idea of a human as part machine, part animal is rather engaging and I love this work. I think he will endure.

Editor's Note
I don't usually add or comment on Tam's Rants.... at least, not in public. But although initially I was agreeing with Tam on this one, I suddenly remembered that one of my favourite art galleries is the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow. Of course, maybe its appeal is directed more at Glaswegians like myself, but if Tam should at some stage pluck up the courage to travel the longest 40 miles in Scotland and visit Scotland's largest city, I recommend calling in to GOMA. I think he might like it! My take on the gallery is at Places to Visit in Scotland GOMA.

Where I do agree with Tam wholeheartedly is in his liking for the work of Eduardo Paolozzi. During my working career, for my sins I was responsible for setting up a new HQ building for the bank I worked for. At the fitting out stage, the Chief General Manager asked me to get some pictures for the walls of the senior executive floor - specifying that they had to be modern, have a link to technology and be by a Scottish artist. Fortunately, I was able to ask a contact who was involved in the art world and he immediately recommended Eduardo Paolozzi... He suggested a limited edition set of prints "Calcium Light Night" which, like a number of other works by Paolozzi was influenced by his fascination with technology. And the Scottish connection? Despite his Italian-sounding name, Eduardo was born in Leith, the only son of Italian parents who owned an ice cream shop in the town....

For more on Eduardo Paolozzi, see Famous Scots - Eduardo Paolozzi

If you want to let Tam have your feedback on this piece, drop him a line at tam@rampantscotland.com.

Tam O'Ranter
June 2010

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