THE FINE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY
National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 13 Jan 000
The National Portrait Gallery's latest offering is, if you like, a snapshot of the vast Scottish national photography collection, a treasure trove of some 25,000 images. ranging from the earliest daguerreotypes to current digitally manipulated prints.
The task of selecting from such a comprehensive store cannot have been easy, but the show does a decent job of tracing photography's tentative first steps to its comparatively recent recognition as an equal to painting or SCquture, via the medium's role in documentary and repertage.
The exhibition begins with the pioneering work of early Scottish photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, who seem remarkably comfortable in what was. in their 19th century heyday. a decidedly experimental medium. Both have a painterly eye, presenting carefully composed rural scenes before moving into portraiture. a baton taken up by their late—Victorian followers who began to document family life.
This huge amount of early material is. perhaps. the show's strong point. Its
over to the first half-century of photography's development, is that images from the 20th century are almost sidelined. Not that there aren't
fine examples from more recent times.
Eve Arnold's famous portrait of a laughing Malcolm X is as strong as ever; Annie Liebovitz's iconic John Lennon and Yoko Ono stands out and even David Shrigley's slight Black Snowman manages to shine in
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Annie Leibovitz’s John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1980
The show also suffers from some puzzling accompanying texts. highlighting, for example. the new documentary direction taken in the 40s and 50s. despite the large number of earlier documentary work in the colonies and Britain's slums on show. These are quibbles. however, since nothing can detract from the wealth of images on offer, a testament to the invaluable resource provided by the
failing. since so much space is given
Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 17 Nov .0.
Swiss artist Nic Hess recycles the signs and symbols of the world around him to create sprawling collages that streak across gallery walls. Using industrially produced adhesive yinyI, Hess manages to reproduce the designs of our culture by interlocking small stripes of colour.
By isolating logos and objects from their usual environs. Hess rewrites the visual narrative. And as Hess is in Edinburgh, it is only natural that he has raided Our Cultural artefacts such as the National Galleries' Skating Reverend, which skates away from a group of Qantas Airways bouncing kangaroo logos towards the Forth Rail Bridge. On another wall is the giant bow of a liner cutting across the white space. The immediate reference point for this is the Royal Yacht Britannia docked in Leith.
There is a smaller montage of logos comprising the McDonald's M, the Kappa couple and the Playboy bunny. Placed altogether it is the Playboy bunny that actually dictates the meaning, overriding any sense of burgers and shell suits, as the montage adopts a more sexy edge.
This however, is the only sense of irony detectable in the exhibition as it is really just a playful reconstruction of images. That said, the dominating image of the whole show is the colourful streaks of the east coast plane with a gun trailing behind it. There is nothing playful or ironic about an image referring to the attack on New York. A definitive srgn of our times as we adjust to a new reality. (Isabella Weir)
Nic Hess, detail from Well Done at The Fruitmarket Gallery, 2001
national collection. (Jack Mottram)
PAINTING KAREN KIRKWOOD AND SUSAN WOODS Firth Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 17 Nov 0..
Crimson Baroque by Susan Woods For an that looks nice, look no further. For an that provokes thought and intellectual exploration, you'd better go somewhere else. This show of twenty abstract oil paintings and prints by two Scottish artists is a visual treat of colour, luminosity, texture and balance. And with prices ranging from £7250 to 52850, the works will undoubtedly be snapped up by Edinburghers with an eye for tasteful home decoration.
Kirkcaldy—born Susan Woods explores textures in her oil panels and screenprints, combining glossy and matt colours in varying degrees of saturation to create visually rich surfaces. Luscious organic forms are brushed loosely over vertically divided panels, creating a tension between relaxed form and rigid structure. With titles such as Motion Picture, Tracking, Motel and Crimson Baroque. you would expect the pictures to differ wildly in appearance, but in fact they are all variations on the same viSual theme.
Edinburgh College of Art graduate Karen Kirkwood's oil paintings (unfortunately on paper which is already buckling with the strain) also use geometrical patterns combined with wilder, more natural brush strokes, and this time the compositional contrast is more overt. Measurement is a rich red textured souare with three cross—hairs lined up along the bottom. On closer inspection a grid pattern is visible below the crimson surface. with hints of the eternal battle between science and nature. You get the impression that nature is winning but orin just. (Catriona Black)
Bellevue Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 18 Nov 0.
In any description of fine art, the word ‘decorative' is often a euphemism for 'unengaging'. Jenny Smith's exhibition of Japanesednspwed paintings and prints faces an immediate Challenge by being placed within a distractineg beautiful Georgian townhouse. Wooden floors, a sweeping top-lit staircase and luscious curving walls are the focal points, relegating Smith's work to the dreaded ‘d' word.
Like buying clothes on holiday, what appeals or makes sense in one context does not necessarily translate well when you arrive home. Here. Smith's choice of materials reflects a stereotypical western interpretation of the two main strands in traditional Japanese Culture. With heavily impasted gold and silver acrylic on pure, plain watercolour paper, rich and sensuous materials are set against austerity and restraint, like kabuki performed in a minimalist tea-house. Unfortunately, any abstraction rendered redundant in unnecessarily ‘pointed' titles.
Smith is undoubtedly talented, with a real, emotive response to materials, and the exhibition is understated, tactile and beautifully presented. but I'd prefer a bit of spark or bite to these quiet poetics. Maybe we are too used to irony and heavy concepts in contemporary art but for me this is genteel art for a genteel gallery. (Susannah Thompson)
Untitled (Circle gravel) 2001
1-15 Nov 2001 THE LIST 87