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BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE AND THE JACOBITES Blockbuster tackles the Jacobite legend ●●●●●
Flawed romantic heroes make for good summer exhibitions, proved by the National Museum of Scotland’s hugely successful Mary Queen of Scots show in 2013. Bonnie Prince Charlie will draw the crowds too, but this rigorous and thorough exhibition might give the public more than they bargained for. Most of us have learned about the Jacobites as
tragic heroes from books and films, rather than hearing the story in its true complexity. It’s a story which takes in a century of turbulent European history and has more to do with power, politics, religion and clashing concepts of kingship than conflict between the English and the Scots. The curators do their best to tell a complicated
story clearly and succinctly. Text panels give a sense of the story’s arc. Film is used sparingly and effectively, and despite there being over 300 objects here, you never feel overwhelmed by them.
The danger is that visitors coming for a whiff of the romantic Charlie will leave with their heads birling with names, dates and places. At least they will have a sense that the Jacobite story is richer and more complex than they first imagined. (Susan Mansfield) ■ National Museum of Scotland, until 12 Nov, £10 (£8).
JAC LEIRNER: ADD IT UP A world where everything is in its place ●●●●● EDINBURGH ALPHABET The city’s story told through alphabetically arranged objects ●●●●●
Giving up smoking can do weird things to people. Just ask Jac Leirner, the Brazilian artist whose work was first seen at the Fruitmarket in a 2015 group show. Cigarette butts, ashtrays and rolling papers are some of the materials used in Leirner’s first solo show in Scotland, transformed into obsessively regimented arrangements.
The most striking thing to hit you first, however,
is ‘Blue Phase’, in which 50,000 obsolete Brazilian bank-notes snake across the floor, graded in a way that focuses on colour rather than monetary worth. Elsewhere, materials from hardware shops are lined up side by side in order of size and colour. The spirit levels of ‘Levelled Spirit’, the cords of ‘120 Cords’ and the rulers of ‘Metal, Wood, Black’ create vivid pictures of a world where everything is in its place. ‘Little Light’ lines up two miles of insulated copper wire threaded from the plug, revealing Leirner as a DIY grafter on several levels. There is a self-effacing wit at play too, most apparent in ‘Woman & Man’, in which ropes and chains serve up a basic biology lesson. As the tellingly titled ‘The End’ transforms a bin full of joint roaches into a criss-crossing mobile, all this looks like aversion therapy on a scale grand enough to prove addictive. (Neil Cooper) ■ The Fruitmarket Gallery, until 22 Oct, free.
The concept behind this extensive four-floor exhibition is a simple one, although the actual curation must have been complex; essentially, the idea is to tell the story of Edinburgh using items sourced from across the collections of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, creating an A to Z trail which shines a useful light on the city for locals and visitors alike. The project has been intelligently completed, taking in the more obvious touchstones (tartan and tourism are both there), to a number of inventive inclusions; ‘Z’ is for ‘Zeitgeist’, for example, with a display of photographs and banners from recent protest marches.
‘X’ also enjoys a clever workaround with ‘X-Factor’, taking in odd acquisitions which have no obvious home elsewhere. There are some lovely pieces of art (Alexander Nasmyth’s painting of the Port of Leith; John Bellany’s ‘The Obsession’; the striking photographic results of the recent Capture Edinburgh competition) and a few odd inclusions, such as examples of the Museum of Childhood’s action figure collection, but it’s the sense of storytelling throughout which elevates this weighty social history display. Everyone who visits will learn something new. (David Pollock) ■ City Art Centre, until 8 Oct, free.
TRUE TO LIFE – BRITISH REALIST PAINTING IN THE 1920S AND 1930S Spotlight on little-explored movement from between the wars ●●●●●
In the shop of Modern 2, the postcard reproductions of some of the 80 paintings brought together for this bumper compendium of 1920s and 1930s British realism are racked next to those of Ladybird book covers and vintage posters advertising Scottish holiday destinations. This may be a happy accident, but in their complementary depictions of idealised versions of brave new post-war worlds, they are all too appropriate aesthetic near neighbours. While the blast of WWI exploded Dada and other abstractions into
noisy life elsewhere, here the landscapes look unsullied, their occupants impeccably turned out. Over four rooms we see that world at work, rest and play. From the Italian-inspired co-opting of bustling communities and religious iconography in the first, to the second room’s set of portraits which flit from the windswept idyll of James Cowie’s much seen ‘A Portrait Group’ (1933/about 1949) to haughty looking women playing cards alone. This not only points to tweedy subversions that would come later, but sets the template for TV production designers working on post-modern Agatha Christie remakes. Algernon Newton’s ‘Canal Basin’ (1929), meanwhile, which sits in the third room’s collection of rural and urban still lifes, sets the tone for former Clash bass player Paul Simonon’s own Thames-based paintings a few decades later.
It is the fourth room’s cavalcade of picnickers, hikers, circuses and funfairs that really capture a new sense of a new leisured class. It’s no surprise that Fortunino Matania’s ‘Blackpool’, originally commissioned for a London, Midland and Scottish Railway poster, was also used to advertise the northern English fun palace as a holiday town. The realism here, then, is far from gritty, and, as everyday experiences are writ large in the likes of Edward Burra’s ‘The Snack Bar’ (1930) (pictured), this particular truth points to the brightest of futures. (Neil Cooper) ■ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, until 29 Oct, £10 (£8).
3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 127