Big Art.

Two of the festival exhibitions in Edinburgh look at big art.  Though the festival is long over, the art shows carry on into October and November – with one going on until January.  Which is good, since it means one can space out the visits and not get too overloaded.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop me waiting until the last minute before seeing the shows.

Van Gogh and Britain

This was a funny show: it was like it didn’t know why it was there.  The precept was to gather together a series of paintings that had some connection with Britain – they had been bought at some point by British collectors.

But this meant it was a show which lacked coherence: it wasn’t a complete review of Van Gogh’s painting, although it was arranged chronologically; the only thing that the works had in common aside from Van Gogh was that they had been owned at some point by someone living in Britain.  And, of course, that the National Galleries of Scotland could get the loan of them.

There were some good paintings – some of Van Gogh’s iconic works: A Wheatfield, with Cypresses and Olive Trees (both of which are on display in the National Gallery of Scotland), for instance; but the whole didn’t really enthuse me.

A Wheatfield, with Cypresses
Vincent Van Gogh – A Wheatfield, with Cypresses – National Gallery of Scotland

Perhaps it was down to the familiarity of the images.  Van Gogh was very prolific, and maybe he should have weeded out the works he wanted to keep for posterity – though it isn’t his fault the market in his work soared after his death.

There was one aspect I found particularly annoying.  Because the exhibition was based around the ownership, the text accompanying the pictures focused on the owners and the prices they had paid for the paintings.  For me, this seemed to miss the point of the pictures completely.  I didn’t really care who had owned the painting or how they were ahead of their time, buying them when no one else would.  There was one sad story though: A friend of Van Gogh’s, Alexander Reid, sent one of the pictures – his portrait – home to his father in Glasgow; he hated it and sold it quickly to a dealer for £5 (albeit that that is about £22,000 in today’s money!).

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck is a sculpture; I hadn’t heard of him before the publicity for this show.  He started off as a model maker – he worked in Jim Henson’s studio, before working as a model-maker for advertising.

He became a sculpture in the nineties, making giant images of people – and minutes ones, as well.  They are frighteningly realistic – but huge.  I found the exhibition quite disturbing, though it was hard to say why. 

I couldn’t help thinking that this was craft rather than art: he is very, very good at recreating the human form, in all its detail – men’s chins that need shaving; sweating follicles; a newborn baby’s head with blood and gunk (the baby was about ten feet long).

Ron Mueck – In Bed
Ron Mueck – In Bed – National Gallery of Scotland

And it did disturb me – I felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag looking at the resting woman (and where did they find such a huge duvet?!) – but I am not sure that it made me think very much, other than that this was an amazing technique.

It was fascinating and beautiful, but also left me quite cold.


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