Venice Comes Home
The most interesting name on the list of those organising the Scottish representation to the Venice Biennale is not actually a person but an institution. This year, the National Galleries of Scotland will bring back the national selection, curated by Jason Bowman and Rachel Bradley, once it has had the chance to make Scotland’s visual art shine in its most conspicuous global setting. Philip Long, senior curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, was on the panel that chose Bowman and Bradley for this prestigious task. The Edinburgh showing will be held towards the end of the year. Biennale artists will be announced in March.Luke Watson
NGS is also taking bold steps in its acquisitions policy. Sara Stevenson, curator of the National Photography Collection, brought Luke Watson’s work to attention when she approached him at the Edinburgh College of Art degree show in 2003 and hooked him up with James Holloway, director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He was impressed and promptly bought 17 portraits of representatives of Scotland’s main Christian churches and other faiths, which formed a key part of the gallery’s winter 2004/5 exhibition, Keeping the Faith . Watson has been commissioned by The Map to photograph a series of artists in their studios, beginning this issue with Jim Lambie.
Francis McKee, co-curator of Scotland’s hugely successful contribution to the Biennale of 2003, has been busy putting together a line-up for this year’s inaugural Glasgow International Contemporary Art Festival, 21 April-2 May. Alongside the Barbara Kruger exhibition, which had already been organised as the first big exhibition at GoMA in years, McKee has been frantically putting things together. A week in Mexico City took him on a daily minibus excursion through some of the most deprived areas in the Western hemisphere, to a building next to a large chilli factory in the suburb of Ecatepec. This building, surrounded by the juicing and canning plant which fuels a fortune, houses one of the largest private contemporary art collections in Latin America, owned by the suave, billionaire inheritor of the Jumex fortune, Eugenio Lopez. McKee was given privileged access to the collection with the intention of creating an exhibition based on the large amount of Scottish work held therein. ‘I soon realised that although the collection’s curators had collected a lot of Scottish work, the Douglas Gordons, the Louise Hopkins, the Richard Wrights they had were quite typical and so we decided to bring some of the other work across, much of it from Mexico-based artists.’ McKee discovered a very clear body of work within the collection that explored landscape and humankind’s proprietorial relationship with it. Jumex has agreed to commission more work from art-agitator Minerva Cuevas and Francis Alÿs especially for the exhibition at Glasgow International.
McKee is in effect simultaneously organising Glasgow International for 2006. Already pencilled in is a permanent piece of public art by Toby Paterson, and, blimey, an exhibition of work by cartoonist Robert Crumb. According to McKee, his success in attracting interesting work to the festival, is because ‘artists really want to engage with the city’.
The Scottish Arts Council is meanwhile attempting to get the Scottish public to engage with art made in Scotland. Launched in November, Own Art offers interest-free loans of £100 to £2,000 that are administered by HFC Bank and repaid in installments over a 10-month period. There are nine participating galleries in the pilot scheme around Scotland, (check www.sac.org.uk for details). David Watt, the director of Edinburgh Printmaker’s Studio, describes Own Art as a fantastic initiative. ‘The market that the SAC are trying to cultivate is the right one,’ he says. ‘First time buyers who are without much disposable income and therefore probably young.’ Echoing, hesitantly, the words of Graham Berry, director of the Scottish Arts Council, who launched the project with the hope that it would help ‘encourage the public away from singing butlers’, Watt hopes that it will ‘educate, or rather encourage people’s better taste’. His concern however, is that the scheme is ideal for galleries such as Edinburgh Printmakers, which sell new and relatively cheap editions, leaving artists of bigger and more expensive work permanently out in the cold.
Slapstick Mystics with Sticks
When Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan cast their modern mumming play The Slapstick Mystics With Sticks unannounced on the Frieze Art Fair audience in 2004, several of the museum curators taking part in the National Collection Scheme of Scotland were on hand to observe. Inspired, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, McManus Galleries in Dundee, Edinburgh City Art Centre, University of Glasgow’s Hunterian, Paisley Museum & Art Galleries and the Pier Arts Centre, Orkney have commissioned Tatham and O’Sullivan, through the National Collection Scheme for Scotland with SAC National Lottery funding, to produce a site-specific project in spring 2006, with documentation of the event going into the collection of each of the galleries.
Fragrance for Beck’s
Nominations for the Becks Futures prize threw up two very different Scottish nominees. Luke Fowler was born in Glasgow in 1978 and studied at Duncan of Jordanstone. Donald Urquhart was born in Dumfries in 1963 and studied at Dumfries Academy, a secondary school. Very select, he jokes. ‘I applied to Glasgow School of Art but didn’t get in. I may yet.’ In 1984 Urquhart relocated to London via Glasgow were he spent the late 80s and early 90s doing a variety of jobs including modelling, performing as a drag artist and organising the seminal club and cultural melting pot the Beautiful Bend, beloved of The Face and frequented by knowing, dramatic types and drag queens. Donald’s sculptures, clothes, fragrances, stage acts and, in particular, dark and mischievous drawings, were an integral part of the club’s atmosphere. ‘Now,’ he says, ‘I’m just doing the same old thing but in a gallery. Once I was an artiste, now I am an artist.’ For Beck’s Futures, which opens at the ICA in London on 18 March, he’s designing an installation called ‘Another Graveyard’ that explores what life would have been like if certain famous figures hadn’t died. ‘I don’t want it to get too morbid,’ says Donald. ‘So I am commissioning a special fragrance for the event. It’s the recreation of a perfume that was popular amongst homosexuals in Edinburgh during the 1930s.’ What does it smell like? ‘Well it smells like a gay man sitting in a leather armchair, with a cashmere tartan rug across his lap and a peaty malt whisky in his hand, with a wood-fire in front of him and rain lashing down outside. I’ve told the parfumiers to blend several smells including snuff, whisky, shortbread, damp leaves and tweed.’
NB. There are two Scottish artists called Donald Urquhart. One engages with the Scottish landscape and has just completed a design for The Sanctuary at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The other Donald Urquhart celebrated his nomination for the Becks Futures by singing ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ in his local karaoke bar. The winner of Beck’s Futures is announced on Tuesday 26 April. The eponymous exhibition will be shown at CCA in Glasgow later in the year.
Armour BoysThe director of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop appears to have concluded her Clearances. Hillary Nicol has finally removed the ‘men with beards’ that once gathered at the residential workshop in Aberdeenshire. Last month, Nicol, who was commissioning director of the Fringe Gallery in Castlemilk in the mid-90s before heading south to work with the Arts Council of England, announced the first of her residential commissions; three for sculpture and two for film to begin in late-spring. Nicol’s commissions mark the end of the institution’s long held open-to-all policy, which brings it into line with other workshops around the UK. Following sixty applications, month-long development residencies were offered to nine artists in summer 2004. From that shortlist, the proposals of Stuart Gowden, Rhona Lee and Laura Ford have been commissioned and the artists offered extended residencies. Not only will the work make extensive use of SSW’s rare foundry but the anonymous gallery directors who advised Nicol’s team felt they would make the best exhibits. Ford, whose work featured in the fifth British Arts Show, hopes to include her tiny warriors encased in armour, the ‘Armour Boys’, in a forthcoming show at Tate Britain. Nicol describes the SSW prior to her tenure as being ‘very macho, full of men in beards, doing firewalks’. Cha till mi tuille [we shall return no more], as it were.Alison Watt
The Glenfiddich residencies will happen around the same time with Alison Watt getting the nod. Each year, since 2002, the distillery has invited a number of leading contemporary artists to spend three months in residence at its Dufftown distillery which represents an annual investment of around £1000,000. Expect the other five winners to have a distinctly non-European flavour when they are announced.
SNPC reaches Moscow
Plans for the Scottish National Photography Centre have reached Moscow. A letter from Anna Belorusova, representative of auction house Christie’s in Russia, recently reached the hands of Graeme Murdoch, Chief Executive of the SNPC, regarding the ‘pioneer photographer Scotsman, William Carrick’. According to Dr Sara Stevenson, chief curator of the National Photography Collection, ‘Carrick was the son of a Scots timber merchant working in St Petersburg and originally trained in Rome as a painter. During the Crimean War, the timber trade suffered and Carrick turned to photography as a way of earning money.’ Carrick retrained in Edinburgh under James Good Tummy in 1857 and returned to St Petersburg to eke out a living photographing the poor of the Russian city’s streets as well as the peasants of the remote Simbirsk region. Today, Carrick’s work is highly prized in Russia for its aesthetics, for its unparalleled depth as a social document and for its importance in disseminating photography as an art form in Czarist Russia. The purpose of Belorusova’s letter is to introduce a certain Mr Khoroshilov Deputy Head of the Governmental Department of Culture, Education and Mass Media, and ‘one of the most influential figures of Moscow cultural scene’. In a private capacity Khoroshilov is putting together a 200-page monograph of Carrick’s work and wishes to use the 90 photographs by the ‘pioneer photographer Scotsman’ in the NPC. Khoroshilov also suggests that the monograph ‘could be followed up by an exhibition of the Russian part of Carrick’s collection in Edinburgh, maybe for the SNPC opening, as a vivid proof of Scottish early photography’s great contribution in photography development worldwide’.
Emma Hamilton in the flesh
If you’ve seen recent Jerwood Photography prize-winner Emma Hamilton’s work in the press, you will want to see it in the, er, flesh. One of two Scottish-based winners of the awards (along with Sarah Lynch) Hamilton has a show at the Crawford Arts Centre, St Andrews, at the end of March. She says she just wanted to make ‘meat look beautiful’. Which she does, with offal and off-cuts supplied to her by her uncle from the family business, McFarlane’s of Alva and Stirling, that her grandfather established and she herself worked in when she was younger. Explaining the direction she wants her work to go in, she said, ‘I want to get some flies in the next ones’. She insists that it’s because the still-lifes of the Dutch masters had flies on them and not because she wants to unsettle her audience.