! Miranda France rounds up some of j the exhibitions linked to the Summit.
While the EC Summit unites Europe’s politicians for only a day, and even then behind closed doors, the artistic dimensions of the European debate are open to interpretation well into the New Year in a plethora of exhibitions across the city. Some of these use the Summit as a peg on which to hang shows which have a European perspective, but are not pertinent to the current debate. Others bring together works by artists who have deliberately sought to explain ‘Europeanness’ and the business of union.
One of the former is Ecco Home, at the National Gallery of Scotland, — an exhibition of works by artists who have, over the last four centuries, taken inspiration from Rome, the ancient European seat of religion and commerce and, in 1957, the place where nine European heads of state laid the foundations for a unified Europe.
Largely the show divides into two categories: there are works made by the many European artists who went to study in Rome , such as Raphael, Poussin, Piranesi and Allan Ramsay— whose anti-Catholic father feared he was going to ‘the seat of the beast’. No woman artist is represented, in spite of the fact that there was a large international community of women artists living in Rome in the last century.
The second category includes architectural drawings, vistas and street scenes. The earliest of these is by Hieronymus Cock who arrived in 1546 to paint the ruins, just twenty years after the city was devastated by the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Three hundred years later, Whistler was less impressed: he left Rome after three days declaring ‘ruins don’t count. This is only a stucco town’.
The 19th century art historian John Ruskin took a similarly dim view of Venice, although he spent much longer scrutinising his subject, finally producing a three-volume book, Stones of Venice written between 1851 and 1853. Extracts from the book, along with archive photographs by Carlo Naya and Carlo Ponti, taken in the 18505 and ‘605 are shown at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Ruskin’s unusual belief was that the morals, politics, aspirations and beliefs of Venetians could be ‘read’ in the buildings they had made. During his research he thoroughly prob_ed and analysed the city’s architecture, often from the top of a long ladder. His conclusion was that Venice was dead: its classical architecture, he argued, was a sham, apparently perfect, but haughtily devoid of imagination. The masons might just as well have been slaves for all the vision they had been allowed to bring to their work.
He saw Venice as a city fallen through its devotion to materialism and ‘godlessness’ - nothing more than ‘a ghost upon the sands of the
sea’ — and he warned Britain that the same plight might befall any arrogant imperialist nation. The exhibition is interesting in its comparison of Ruskin’s work ethic with later Marxist philosophy.
Contemporary Europeans address the issue of nationhood in l-D Nationale a large photography show curated by the Portfolio Gallery and showing there and at the 369 Gallery. The question behind the works of these eleven European artists and photographers is: what is national identity, how is it forged and at what point does it spill over into racism?
Central to much of the work is the feeling that, as Europeans, we still have not absorbed our collective past, in particular the legacy of the Holocaust. Astrid Klein‘s deathly landscapes pull no punches: the wasted bodies of concentration camp victims lie around in piles. Ania Bien traces the lives of a man and woman bound for concentration camps but confuses our reaction by having each snapshot displayed in a shiny silver menu-holder from a hotel restaurant.
John Stathatos’s Greek landscapes criss-crossed with walls are a comment on the arbitrary way in which territory is divided, an arbitrariness which has been at the heart ofso much war. Ron O’Donnell seems to make the point even more forcefully in a painting which shows Scotland physically and bloodily wrenched from the British body.
Matthias Wahner‘s parody of the Last Supper
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features twelve portraits of men each ofwhom appears on the back of an EC country banknote (Shakespeare represents the UK). The message is clear enough: our cultural icons have somehow been hijacked to perform as financial ambassadors, to dignify the dirty business of money-making. Wahner is concerned that the union has so far been exclusively on financial deals and that cultural union is irrelevant to the bureaucrats entrusted with shaping the new Europe.
At the French Institute. Pierre Valet’s En Vielle Europe similarly attempts to psychoanalyse Europe by catching it unawares: his photographs present a telling fragment of the whole — a Jewish cemetery in Prague or a Venetian bridge. Meanwhile, the National Library ofScotland presents ancient European Treasures, including the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots and the first ever guide book, written 500 years ago, which advises the traveller not to go to Venice without taking his own ‘fryenge pan‘.
And how do the European delegates like their art? In Twelve Stars. the City Art Centre presents a selection ofworks from the European Parliament’s collection which suggests that they have rather progrssive tastes. How much that inﬂuences their politics is a matter for debate.
See A r! Listings for details of dates and opening hours.
“Thcljst‘t- 17 December 1992