Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art sees new additions

SCOTLAND boasts, in the work held by its National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, a truly world-class collection of the art of the early Modernists and their successors. It is fantastically encouraging to discover – in this recently opened exhibition of newly acquired works – that the collection continues to be strengthened by the purchase and donation of some major and fascinating pieces.

Composed mainly of works added to the collection over the past five years, this major exhibition (free to the public) occupies the entire ground floor of Modern 1 (the first of the two buildings that make up the gallery). . It is an excellent fair, impressive in its diversity, worthy of honoring galleries from all over the world.

Perhaps the most important acquisition is The Horse Rider (below) by the great Jewish-Belarusian artist Marc Chagall. Painted between 1949 and 1953, this beautiful fantasy in blues and yellows reflects Chagall’s fascination with the circus (a recurring theme in his work).

Executed using Chagall’s favorite gouache method (in which the pigment is ground in water and thickened with a glutinous substance), the painting is striking in the depth of blue in which the artist depicts the night sky. . Its dreamlike, almost mythical quality – a semi-abstract trapeze artist watches over the beautiful rider as she leads her stoic pastel blue horse – has parallels in the allusive work of the great Andalusian writer Federico García Lorca.

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In the room of works that add to the gallery’s already extensive collection of surrealist art, we find one of Salvador Dalí’s famous lobster telephones (pieces that are, in my opinion, unusually penetrable, in their commentary apparent on the difficulties of telecommunications). Above all, the gallery recognizes the need to add more works by female artists to its surrealist collection.

Of the newly acquired works by surrealist women, perhaps the most fascinating is Leonora Carrington’s striking portrait of her surrealist lover Max Ernst. The Anglo-Mexican painter depicts a somewhat inscrutable Ernst in a frozen landscape.

In the work, the German artist carries a lantern containing a small horse (often a symbol with which Carrington represented herself). It is an irresistibly ambiguous and brilliantly executed painting.

If the major works are in the main rooms of the gallery, visitors to the exhibition will be well advised to pay attention to the pieces presented in the adjoining corridor. For example, English artist Marie Harnett’s (Edinburgh College of Art graduate) exquisite little pencil drawings depicting moments from the Brazilian biopic Heleno are absolutely captivating.

Breathtakingly precise, these black-and-white images (like that of a glamorous singer, her outstretched arms clad in long satin gloves) are part of the centuries-old tradition of artistic miniaturism. They also recall the technical brilliance of the remarkable photographic paintings of Gerhard Richter.

Other contemporary works include Graham Fagen’s four-screen video installation, The Slave’s Lament. This moving piece features reggae artist Ghetto Priest and the Scottish Ensemble performing Robert Burns’ titular song, set to music by Sally Beamish.

Wangechi Mutu’s series of collages on the representation of the female body, and the bodies of black women in particular, are fascinatingly powerful.

Damien Hirst’s bronze sculpture Wretched War has classic Goya horror.

Jenny Saville’s Study for Branded – a preparatory painting for a larger nude self-portrait – is a resonant and uncompromising work of feminist realism. Add to that some deeply interesting pieces from artists as diverse as Bridget Riley, Steven Campbell and Elisabeth Frink, and these newcomers make for an outstanding exhibit.

The exhibition lasts until spring 2023