Edinburgh Festival 2011: The streets are paved with marble, the rest is solid gold
There's something for everyone here – pastiche, innovation, royalty, and yesterday's rubbish
Sunday 07 August 2011
This tentacled sculpture could just be by Tony Cragg, though it isn't. It's in the wrong gallery for a start – at the Talbot Rice, while Cragg's one-man show is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA). Then there's something wrong with the work: it feels generic rather than specific, a kind of sculpture rather than a sculpture. It's as though someone has set out to mimic Cragg-iness as, in fact, is the case. The piece is signed "AH", which stands for Anton Henning.
Henning, Berlin-born, is a master forger. His copies are not exact but allusive, including, in this show, a more-or-less Picasso, a sort-of Matisse, a not-quite Brice Marden and a painting with the cut-out words, "Most importantly, take on the role of THE curator".
Henning has heeded his own advice, hanging his pseudo-artspace with pseudo-art – the Picassos, Matisses etc are all signed "AH" – and painting its walls in nasty pinks and greens. The feel is of a provincial gallery you've been to before, though you can't remember when. The result, says Henning, is not just an installation but a full-blown Gesamtkunstwerk, a piece of total art.
There's a lot of this stuff about – think Mike Nelson, or Hauser & Wirth's Piccadilly Community Centre – and much of it is better than Henning's. Still, his all-you-can-eat buffet makes a useful starting point for the Edinburgh Art Festival, whose dishes are many and varied.
Also at Talbot Rice is a collection of Mughal raga pictures (real, this time), which turn up in the paintings of Elizabeth Blackadder. I've never really got Blackadder, and her show at the National Galleries of Scotland doesn't help. Like Henning, she seems a pasticheur – a touch of Winifred Nicholson here, a dab of Gwen John there – although, unlike him, she presumably doesn't mean to be. I suppose Blackadder's been given a star part in the Festival because she's in her eighties, Scottish and posh. This same might be said of the subject of the National's other and more interesting show, The Queen: Art and Image.
Given the SNP's electoral triumphs, 60 years of pictures of Elizabeth II seems an unpromising choice for Edinburgh's art festival. Actually, the politically-charged nature of "The Queen" echoes the artistic paradox of the Queen: can images of her ever be other than royal? Patrick Lichfield shoots her guffawing on Britannia, and she's Her Majesty. Lucian Freud paints her with five o'clock shadow, ditto. Chris Levine's holograms, one with its eyes shut, allow you to see every 3D crease in the royal lipstick: she's Her Majesty. If this show was meant to demystify the monarchy, it doesn't work.
But now to the best things in this year's Festival. To get to one, Ingrid Calame at the Fruitmarket, you need to go down another, Martin Creed's Work No 1059. Creed makes art out of almost nothing and does it extraordinarily well. For this permanent commission, he has re-surfaced the Scotsman Steps in coloured marble. You mightn't notice if you didn't know, the stone fitting in so seamlessly with Edinburgh's overblown architecture that Work No 1059 is more a completion than an invention. It marks a tiny but unforgettable shift in the city's psycho-geography, even if Creed's brief seems not, alas, to have included ridding the steps of wee.
Calame, a New Yorker, is known as a drawer. This hardly suffices. Her drawings are vast, #334 being eight feet by four. Then there is her technique. Calame starts by laying tracing paper on the ground and following its cracks and fissures in coloured pencil: a new wall piece in the upper gallery tracks the concreted bed of a stretch of the Los Angeles river. The resultant drawings (and the paintings made from them) have a strongly graphic quality, although their power lies less in their beauty than in their ambiguity.
At a guess, Calame traces over her initial tracing, so that the finished drawing appears to float, almost but not quite exactly, over under-drawings. Bound up in this ghostliness is the question of what these images are – mappings and yet not maps, depictions as much of a process as of a place. Some of Calame's traced forms look like splats of bird shit, or as though paint has been ripped off the paper with sticking-plaster. If there's been something recognisable lying on the ground – the number 2 keeps turning up, for some reason – then that gets included, too. Her work is ravishing.
Around the corner from the Fruitmarket is Collective and Remains of the Day by Hans Schabus, a neat filing of all the rubbish produced by the artist over a year. Like Michael Landy's possession-chewing Break Down, Schabus's work has a horror of consumption. But it's also an inside-out portrait, the viewer deducing the artist from his garbage like a private detective going through bins. The result is oddly touching, although I do worry about the amount of Coke Zero the man drinks.
Last up is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose Lightning Fields photographs share unexpected things with Ingrid Calame's drawings. Like them, they trace a process – in this case, the 400,000 volt lightning bolts Sugimoto hurls from a wand at photosensitive paper. Prepare to be amazed: photography is made of light, but have you ever seen light photographed? I put it to you that you have not. See and enjoy.
Edinburgh Art Festival (0131 226 6558; edinburghartfestival.com), to 4 Sep
Visual art choice
John Piper got on his bike and pedalled through the lanes of southern England, painting the buildings and views he passed (see above) and reinvigorating British landscape art. A fine show, John Piper in Kent and Sussex, at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, East Sussex, spans 60 years of his career (until 25 Sep) In London, catch Watercolour, Tate Britain's major rehabilitation of the underrated medium – including work by Piper – before it finishes on 21 Aug.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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