Tim Abrahams reports on art world activity
D'Offay to Leith
The Scottish Executive is discussing the possibility of agglomerating four major institutions into a 15,000 square metre building vacated by ailing Austrian electrics company VA Tech in Edinburgh's Leith. Replacing the transmission assembly plant with its workforce of 225, the Executive hopes to use the space to house Anthony d'Offay's collection of modern art, which it is negotiating to purchase. The Scottish National Photography Centre would also be asked to move in, as well as a facility for housing an archive of letters, manuscripts and other correspondence from Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and many others that once belonged to the Scottish publisher, John Murray. The building would also re-house the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments for Scotland (RCAHMS). It is estimated that on top of purchase price it would cost at least £50 million to convert.
But it's unclear whether the proposed tenants actually wish to move in. Last year the RCAHMS was granted £12 million to find further storage facilities for its burgeoning archives. 'We are currently undertaking an options appraisal—the VA Tech building is just one of several places we are looking at,' says director Diana Murray. And the Scottish National Photography Centre has been developed with the Royal High School on Calton Hill in mind.
If the d'Offay collection comes north, it's uncertain whether the National Galleries of Scotland wish to see it housed in Leith rather than the Dean Gallery. No representative of the galleries was available for comment. Planning gain—money given by develpers of adjacent property to fund communal facilities—could fund the purchase and conversion of the factory, but it would also require significant subsidy by the Scottish Executive.
John Leighton has been appointed the National Galleries of Scotland's new director general. A graduate in fine art from the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art in 1982, the distinguished art historian leaves his post as director of Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, to commence his Scottish posting in March 2006.
On the block
In Glasgow, the task of housing a very diverse group of arts organisations has made a significant step. The tenants, however, have still not settled on a name. North Block, Arts Quarter, King Street—whatever you want to call the new gallery and workshop space in Glasgow—has just received a £1.5 million National Lottery capital award from the Scottish Arts Council towards the £7 million development of the visual arts resource. More importantly, the plan for the building has been submitted to the city's planning department. Architects Elder & Cannon have drawn up a conversion that will dramatically alter the whole north end of King Street. Features of the old set-up will be retained. Transmission Gallery will have a basement. Street Level gallery will still inhabit space on street level. In addition, there will be a central foyer space and independent access from King Street. The design of the new interior will be dictated by its primary function as a workshop rather than a gallery space.
However, this artists' community—which also includes Glasgow Print Studio, Civic Works, Glasgow Independent Studios, Glasgow Media Access Centre, Project Ability, the Russian Cultural Centre and Sharmanka—is still to agree on a collective public strategy.
Men of science
There are few artists who speak as lucidly about their own work as Ken Currie. And there have been few opportunities for him to do so, given that he hs only exhibited once in Glasgow since 1992. He is still best known in Scotland for his 1987 commission for the People's Palace, although he has completed further work for signature projects such as the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and the New Gorbals Housing Association.
His latest commission, 'The Three Oncologists' is displayed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, as part of the Healing Touch exhibition.
Currie describes driving to Ninewells hospital in Dundee over six months to observe surgeons Professor RJ Steele and Sir Alfred Cuschieri along with microbiologist Professor Sir David P Lane at work. There, he joined junior surgeons eager to learn and observed the operating theatre not as a dramatic environment, but as a still one. In Currie's portrait, the three men fix their doctorly gazes on the viewer, As the artist said in an interview with Bill Hare, 'I am looking for a response that is almost a physical sensation—an "assault directly on the nervous system" as Francis Bacon used to say.'
Currie's recent exhibition at Flowers East gallery in London explored his fascination with photoraphs by Edward Muybridge, the 19th century creator of studies of animals and human motiuon, who also inspired Bacon. 'I was looking at his pictures designed to help artists understand movement,' explains Currie. 'There was one of a boy with no legs, walking. I thought about Iraq, and of how many people are having their legs blown off. The stillness of some of the pictures heightens the ones in motion. There are contemplative moments, inter-cut with violent movement, very much what Bacon was doing.'
What Currie has done for a humble portrait of men of science, landscape architects Gross Max has done for the walled garden. In an obscure, tree-darkened corner of Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, a secluded glasshouse is planned. Despite the gloom, the exotic forms of foreign plants will be seen within, emitting an unnatural phosphorescent glow. Gross Max expects soon to be given the go-ahead to splice the DNA of jellyfish with this exotic plants.
It is the first phase in an ambitious project to create a new sculpture and landscape park. In addition to 'Garden for a Plant Collector', two oterh schemes are in progress—a maze by JM Architects, influenced by The Matrix and Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, and a pathway by Gareth Hoskins, highlighting the history of the park as a trade route and exhibition centre. The competition was the first major step made by House for an Art Lover (supported by the Land Services of Glasgow City Council) to develop Bellahouston Park into ART PARK Glasgow.
The make-up of the Mack should change ever so slightly next year as well. A significant proportion of Glasgow School of Art's second year intake in 2006 will come from China. Out of approximately 400 undergraduates, around 70 will come from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Bejing, embarking of a new course established in China by GSA staff. Allan Walker, deputy director of GSA, says that the course is having a profound impact on teaching style in China.
'The Chinese approach is Confucian,' says Walker. 'The tutor is a figure to be revered: his font of knowledge is to go unquestioned. Today, the Chinese are very interested in the UK model, which is about questioning, analysing and critical debate. Teaching here is about encouraging individuality, which is integral to our culture and absolutely not in China. It leads to a very different type of student. Undergraduates in China are technically able but don't have the conceptual skills of UK students. GSA staff spent September helping their Chinese counterparts in these non-Confucian teaching methods.
The new An Lanntair art gallery has opened in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The building will provide 105 square metres gallery space, along with performance areas. At the touch of a button, however, two walls can be raised and the whole building becomes open-plan. As befits a new gallery-cum-performance space, An Lanntair opens with an exhibition that is distinctly architectural in flavour. 'The criteria were that it had to use the new gallery space to the fullness of its potential, be contemporary, and also say something about Gaelic culture,' said gallery director Roddy Murray.
He charged writer and curator, Ian Stephen, with exploring the history of the sail-loft. 'The finest building (in Stornoway harbour), is a former Customs House, become sail-loft, become net-loft (with hotel and restaurant), Calor Gas depot, chandlery store, then derelict shell,' says Murray. Stephen's choice of artists—Carina Fihn from Sweden and Mikko Paakkola from Finland—reflects the building's role in the Baltic trade routes.
Work by Moira Maclean, from Lewis, is also included in the exhibition. Working with revealed wallpaper, shje describes herself as 'a domestic archeologist' and 'a wallpaper pirate'. 'I started collecting wallpaper from derelict houses more than a decade ago,' she says. Usually she works by video-recording the process of revealing the layers of wallpaper and taking small samples. In the sail-loft, she stripped back layers that had accrued over a century or more. Having soaked and separated it, she has applied shapes to the gallery walls. One forms a map of Limfjorden, the sea passage leading to the Baltic Sea. It would have been a frequent destination of many who looked upon the paper when it was fresh.