Art and architects
Over the last year. Edinburgh and Glasgow have both announced plans for major new galleries and museums. Miranda France finds an exhibition on 200 years ofgallery design which might give the planners food for thought.
There is an atmosphere of swings and roundabouts in Scottish visual arts. Faced with the continuing. arguably deepening. scourges ofthe present recession. it is hard to tally last year‘s catalogue of closed galleries and cut grants with this year’s ambitious artistic projects. Edinburgh‘s Museum for Scotland is scheduled for completion in 1997. Plans for a new Museum ofScottish Art are in the air and Glasgow has just announced the establishment in 1996 of a new Gallery of Modern Art. to be housed in the Royal Exchange Building. presently home to the Stirling‘s Library.
In 1990 Glasgow City Council established a £3 million fund. the annual income from which has since been used to buy art for the new gallery. including an etching by David Hockney. and works by Joyce Cairns. Ken Kiff and Joseph Davie. The annual 5300.000 fund doesn’t go far— a Hockney oil would cost twice as much — but Julian Spalding. the Director ofGlasgow Art Galleries and Museums. is determined to make the gallery‘s stock as varied. international and exciting as possible. He has already revealed that the ground floor of the gallery will be given over to sculptures, including lan Hamilton Finlay‘s Clay the Life and. upstairs. rooms will be set aside for the works of individual artists. illustrating the development of their techniques. John Bellany and Bridget Riley already have spaces earmarked.
Before they set to designing the interiors ofthis new league of museums and galleries. Spalding and others might do well to peruse an exhibition currently showing at the National Gallery of Scotland. Palaces of A rt: Art Galleries in Britian 1790—1990 is a retrospective look at gallery-design over the last 200 years and even if the name sounds like a stiﬂed yawn. the show is interesting, amusing and surprising.
For a start, the history of public art collections is curiously short: Britain‘s palaces and country mansions had arrangements in the 18th century by which members of the ‘respectable public‘ might make appointments to see collections like Windsor Castle‘s Van Dyck room or the Raphael cartoons at Hampton Court. but the world's first
national museum. the British Museum. was not established until 1753.
Our artistic trend-setting on that occasion was not matched in the following century. While
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France and the rest of the continent quickly set up grandiose public art collections. the British Government steadfastly resisted campaigns to establish a national gallery until 1824. when it
Forten years the nation’s tledgeling art collection consisted of 38 pictures on show at 100 Pall Mall, the private residence at
linancierJohn Julius Angerstein.
authorised the purchase of a number of works from the collection of financier. John Julius Angerstein. For ten years. the nation‘s fledgeling art collection consisted of 38 pictures on show at 100 Pall Mall. Angerstein’s private residence. In 1834. the National Gallery opened in Trafalgar Square. For the record. it was the object of more
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allery of Contemporary Art: one at the architectural proposals
controversy then than in the 1980s. when Prince Charles deemed Richard Rogers‘ new extension to be a ‘monstrous carbuncle‘. Nearly twenty years earlier. William Stark. famous designer oflunatic asylums. had designed Britain‘s first ‘purpose-built‘ museum. to house the collection of Dr William Hunter. and had set a precedent for art gallery design across the country.
Some ofthe most intriguing— and amusing— pictures in Palaces ()fA rt show aristocrats poring over walls jam-packed with pictures at private views at Christies or the Royal Academy. in the 18th and 19th centuries. W. P. Frith‘s Private View at the Royal Academy 1881 depicts Gladstone. Oscar Wilde and Lily Langtry as well as a ‘a family of pure aesthetes absorbed in affected study of the pictures' — a far cry from private views these days. Other illustrations ofsimilar occasions are historically important because they show the development of ideas about how pictures should be hung. A. E. Moffatt's The National Gallery of .S'mtland( 1885) illustrates the ‘cluttered hang'. every available space is covered in art — the effect is attractive. if not practical.
Perhaps the most pertinent part of the show is the section dedicated to the design of contemporary art galleries. good and bad in equal measure. Even if you‘ve heard the arguments a hundred times. it is hard to believe that anyone can justify the creation of a building as ruinously ugly as the Hayward Gallery. The University of East Anglia's Sainsbury (iallery ( 1978). on the other hand. is constantly surprising in its versatility. There is an irony about this section too: the tnost recent building included is the National Gallery‘s HRH-approved Sainsbury Wing. 21 construction undoubtedly admired for its light. its space and its powers of integration. But look at the architectural plans and you might be forgiven for thinkingthat something from the 19th century section had crept into the wrong room. The French. surely. would have come up with something more original. Scotland will. too. I Palaces of A rt: Art Galleries in Britian 1 790—1990 is i at the National Gallery of Scotland until 3 May. J
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