Although the Edinburgh Festival every summer is synonymous with theatre, comedy and other performance arts, the Scottish capital has increasingly become a visual arts destination each August, thanks to an array of ambitious gallery exhibitions and site-specific commissions under the auspices of the Edinburgh Art Festival.
This year’s visual art programme officially begins on Thursday, but some important exhibitions on show as part of the festival have already opened to the public, including my pick of the bunch: a presentation of late paintings by Philip Guston. One of the most fascinating shows at the Royal Academy over the last decade was its retrospective of the American artist in 2004, which examined how Guston moved from shimmering Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s and 60s to a grotesque, cartoonish form of figuration in the 1970s. The art world disowned him at the time for his change of tack, but his gutsy late works anticipated a wider shift towards representation, which crystallised with the RA’s exhibition ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ of 1981.
Philip Guston, 'The Line', 1978. Inverleith House installation view. Photography by Michael Wolchover, courtesy Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Other modern masters are on view in two major group exhibitions at the city’s National Galleries: ‘Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910’ at the Scottish National Gallery (see our recent blog for a brief preview) and ‘Picasso and Modern British Art’, on view at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art following a run at Tate Britain.
Dieter Roth, 'Notebook' (detail), 1967. Hardcover leatherbound diary with drawings, coloured sketches, collages. 17.5 x 11 x 3 cm / 6 7/8 x 4 3/8 x 1 1/8 inches. © Dieter Roth Estate. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.
The German-born artist-provocateur Dieter Roth is the subject of a survey show at the ever-interesting Fruitmarket Gallery. Roth’s avant-garde practice from the late 1950s embraced many different disciplines – from painting to poetry and music to multiples – with a sustained aim to collapse the boundaries between art and life. The exciting new Edinburgh venue Summerhall presents recent video installations, photographs and a site-specific wall work by New York performance art pioneer Carolee Schneemann, whose work, like that of Roth’s, continues to inspire contemporary artists today.
Dieter Roth, 'Solo Scenes', 1997/1998. 128 Video monitors with VCRs, three wooden shelves, 131 VHS-tapes, two shelving units. Installation view at 48. Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (1999). Photo: Heini Schneebeli. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.
Another New Yorker, artist Tim Rollins, founded the Art & Knowledge Workshop in 1982 with troubled students from a South Bronx school, a group who called themselves K.O.S. (Kids of Survival). Rollins and K.O.S. have continued to make art works together, regularly collaborating with young people in different cities on new projects. Their exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery is their first in Scotland and includes paintings that were the result of youth workshops they have organized in Edinburgh during July. Drawings by the minimalist American artist Donald Judd are also on view at Talbot Rice.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S., 'A Midsummer Night's Dream (after Mendelssohn and Shakespeare)', 2009-2010. Watercolor, ink, mulberry paper, mustard seed, apple juice, music score pages on canvas. 107 x 122 x 4 cm / 42 1/8 x 48 x 1 5/8 inches. Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Galleria Raucci/Santamaria, Napoli © the artist.
As well as these international artists, there is a wide range of Scottish art on view, including works by Ian Hamilton Finlay, whose sculptures and audio-visual pieces are at Ingleby Gallery; John Bellany RA, whose 70th birthday is celebrated with a survey of his allegorical paintings, prints and drawings at Open Eye Gallery; and Turner Prize-winner Susan Philipsz, whose new sound piece Time Line can be heard at 1pm each day at various sites across the city, including Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill and West Princes Street Gardens.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine