BY Katarina Brown in Reviews | 06 JAN 95
Featured in
Issue 20

New Art in Scotland

BY Katarina Brown in Reviews | 06 JAN 95

Survey shows specific to geography or nationality are seldom the most memorable or inspiring of exhibitions. At their best, though, they do satisfy a desire for the easy overview of a range of fresh and exciting current work. No matter who or how many the selectors, the view can only ever be partial and 'New Art in Scotland' was no exception. As all three selectors - Douglas Gordon (artist), Jane Lee (art historian) and C.C.A.'s Exhibitions Director, Nicola White - are based in Glasgow, the show was quickly criticised as a view from within. However, as partial views go, it has been an intriguing one and has managed to provoke discussion both about the nature of the project itself and the current Scottish situation in general. This has happened formally through talks at the C.C.A. and, inevitably, socially in the bars and living rooms of the 'art community'.

Given the generally acknowledged 'buoyant atmosphere' in and around Transmission Gallery and various other artist-initiated projects and spaces over recent years, it is surprising that none of the major institutions has attempted any kind of Scottish group show for five years. Since the steady stream of exhibitions, from 'New Image Glasgow' (1985), to the excellent 'Scatter' (1989) at the then Third Eye Centre, there has been nothing. Numerically big group shows like 'Speed' (1991) and 'Modern Art' (1994) at Transmission certainly went some way to bridge the gap, but there was a much-felt need for some kind of serious 'where are we now?' project. So the C.C.A. steals all the points (and the thunder) for being the first to get on with what was an increasingly necessary project.

'New Art in Scotland' began its public life earlier this year as 'New Scottish Art' with a call for submissions from artists living and working in Scotland. From those received, the three selectors produced a shortlist and then, after a series of studio visits and discussions, established the final list of 30 fairly diverse artists. The project's title then changed, not simply for stylistic reasons, but as a necessary acknowledgement of one of the most significant features of art in Scotland now: of the 30 artists involved in the exhibitions, more than half are not Scottish-born. Five years ago this would not have been the case. It seems as if Scotland in general, but specifically Glasgow, has become somewhere that artists not only want to stay, but actually want to move to.

The 30 chosen artists were sub-grouped into three exhibitions, the first being informally referred to as the painting show and the second the 'non-traditional media', or, more popularly, Gothic show. Part I's main achievement was surely to seriously confound all those - and they still exist - who expect Scottish painting to be exclusively working-class heroes and thicknecks. The work was predominantly cool and abstract, emanating mostly from students past and present of the M.F.A. course at Glasgow School of Art. Unfortunately, both Parts I and II suffered somewhat from their approximate classification by media. The better works - such as Carol Rhodes' eerily still 'portraits of landscapes', Stephanie Smith's Untitled (Rebecca) (1994) sound piece and Louise Hopkins' paintings on reversed floral fabric - would have been better served by a more varied environment.

Coinciding with the launch of the long-awaited catalogue, Part III was the most generally satisfying exhibition, being the truest representation of the most exciting art in Scotland at the moment. Diverse forms, references and influences came together comparatively well in a selection of work which shared a common starting point in the artists' everyday, personal and largely urban environs, liberally treated with a fine sense of irony. At first glance, Otto Berchem's Men's Room Etiquette (1994) could easily be mistaken for a classic piece of minimalism, and Nathan Coley's beautiful, wall-mounted structures resemble small Ellsworth Kellys but are each titled Petrol Station (1994). Though works by John Shankie, Andrew Miller and Jacqueline Donachie involved domestic scenes from the artists' lives, they were intensely different in form and thus typical of the current diversity of Glasgow work. While John Shankie's personal and excellent video work, Meal (1994) was visually closer to Caravaggio than anything contemporary, Jacqueline Donachie's intriguing That Schoolgirl Story (extracts from an interview with Douglas Gordon) (1994) - hand painted text and still images from a video-recorded reminiscence - looked more like my teenage bedroom wall in my mid-teens. Unlike many endeavours which proclaim to be new and national, the C.C.A. thankfully steered clear of proposing a single unifying feature, instead emphasising the diversity of new Scottish art.