Scotland Creates: 5000 Y ‘ars of Art and Design hits the MacLellan Galleries. Glasgow.
LISTINGS: GLASGOW 68 EDINBURGH 71 MUSEUMS 73
es'g for I. I g Sue Wilson traces the connections
between Ken Currie and the Bronze Age.
Five thousand years of Scottish art and design? Whoever dreamed up the idea ofencompassing five millennia ofcreative output in a single exhibition deserves a medal for sheer nerve. The result. the first-ever collaboration between all Scotland’s national galleries. libraries and museums. along with Glasgow Art Galleries and Museums. is a courageous and imaginative show which throws new and stimulating light on the troublesome question of a Scottish national identity. while avoiding the pitfall ofattempting conclusive answers.
The exhibition was devised by Barbara and Murray Grigor. the latter ofwhom is a filmmaker. and it does seem to reveal a director‘s rather than a curator's approach. with strict chronology rejected in favour of a more thematic structure. Along with the openness of the galleries‘ design. which mingles things even further. this produces endless unexpected juxtapositions. revealing a multiplicity of intriguing cross-currents or oppositions between different periods. forms and styles. and giving each exhibit a series of concentric contexts.
Attempting to summarise such a massive and eclectic display would be futile. but examples of particular themes or foci give an impression of the overall approach. The section on the inﬂuence exerted by Walter Scott over l9th century Scottish painting is interesting not only in itself. but in the broader questions it raises about the shifting relationship between past and present.
Scott's romantic views of Scotland‘s past were vital in restoring national pride to a country still smarting at the loss ofpolitical power following the Union. and his work inspired a new school of painting with subject matter drawn from the Scottish landscape and history. Painters such as William Allan. David Wilkie. George Harvey and John Phillip created scenes from an idealised rural past. imbuing the characters in such paintings as The Covenanters' Preaching (c. 1830) and Baptism in Scotland ( 1850) with a sturdy resilience and folk wisdom. while Horatio McCulloch‘s Glencoe created a romantic image of the Highland landscape which still persists today.
‘Jalos Watt III in sm- Eulu' I! J.E. lulu. an Inqu 0! mil an all lulu.
The section on Scott. entitled ‘Scott Recreates'. l adjoins the section called ‘The Art of Constructing a Past‘. emphasising that Scott's was a created history. important for the value it gave to Scotland‘s heritage rather than its factual accuracy. The exhibition raises broader questions. too. about ‘constructing a past'. pointing out how present circumstances shape our view of history. It illustrates this with examples ofpast misapprehensions: the Bronze Age Duddingston Hoard was thought to bc Roman when discovered in 1780. a Roman marble head frotn Hawkshaw was judged to be medieval. and until the advent ofcarbon-dating in the 1970s. Skara Brae was thought to be a Pictish settlement. Sculptor Tim Stead's beautifully rendered re-creation in wood of a Skara Brae house is a deliberately literal reconstruction ofthe past. serving as a reminder that the exhibition as a whole is an assemblage influenced by present concerns and ideas.
()fall the oppositions explored in the exhibition — classicism.‘romanticism. Highland Lowland. east ’west. Gaelic/English. home 'abroad — that between ‘art' and ‘design' is proved to be of least relevance; one of the exhibition's major strengths is its alignment and cross-referencing ofa period‘s output in both fields. This is particularly relevant to Scotland. where many of the most prominent figures. such as Adam and Mackintosh. bridge any supposed dichotomy. The section centring on Mackintosh. with samples of his design plans. drawings and furniture. also includes examples ofa fascinating diversity ofarts and crafts being explored at the time in the east and west — enamelling. bookbinding. tapestry. embroidery.
mural-painting. woodwork. ceramics and many more.
The 19th century ‘Art and Industry‘ section explores these cross-currents further. showing examples ofengineering and marine technology as possessing aesthetic and functional virtues. linking the coherence. balance and ingenuity they display to the long-running strain of Scottish rationalism. Other connections between art and industry are explored. with the cross-fertilisation encapsulated in J . E. Lauder‘s painting James Watt and the Steam Engine ( 1855 ).
Strands ofdistinctive Scottishness in art and design are explored alongside Scotland‘s involvement with [European developments. (‘ontinental inﬂuences are revealed as a mixed blessing — sometimes enriching. sometitnes diluting or distracting from native cultural traditions. The forced exile of Mackintosh and the Glasgow Boys. among others. is shown as a major national failure. while the internationalism ofsome Scottish art adds to its strength. The sheer diversity and scope ofthe exhibits precludes any simplistic conclusions about artistic ‘Scottishness‘ but at the same time contributes to the exhibition's success. linding on a confident note. with some of the best work from contemporary Scottish artists such as (iwen llardie. Steven Campbell. liduardo l’aolozzi. I Will Maclean and Ken (‘urrie. the sheer volume. ! range and quality of the work contained in the , exhibition generates a sense of pride and ' optimism about Scottish creativity. (Sue Wilson).
Scotland ( 'reaies: 5000 Years Ulrl r! and I )es'lgn is
a! the McLellan Galleries. Glasgow. until 1 April
The List 23 November — 6 December 199067