The contemporary meets the modern. They eye each other suspiciously. Or they have lively conversations. That is the story of this new exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which puts together about fifty works from a private collection of contemporary art amassed by a wealthy Greek collector, with a similar number of major works from amongst the 6,000 plus objects owned by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
Don't go to the wrong place by the way – this is not the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street. It is its lively younger brother, about twenty minutes' swift walk away, housed in a rather grim looking neo-classical pile which was once a school. Luckily, it's far from grim indoors.
Interventions into august gallery spaces are often small-scale and slightly apologetic. A work or two is removed in order to give way for something which may both rhyme and jar simultaneously. This intervention is much more radical – and much more interesting for being so.
The entire gallery has been turned upside down, all twenty-two rooms of it. None of the rooms is densely populated. Just a handful of pieces to a room. Sometimes just one. That lack of clutter makes for an easy and enjoyable journey through.
Here is something a little surprising though. The entire exercise seems designed to persuade us that the story of the art of today flows naturally on from the work of the Dadaists and the Surrealists. That thesis is questionable and profoundly partial, but this exhibition manages to put its case entertainingly, persuasively and thought-provokingly.
Why those two movements though? The answer is quite simple. The fact is that the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has major holdings in these areas, notably a bequest from Roland Penrose, friend to Picasso and many of the European Surrealists. So one of the pleasures of this show is that you get to see major works by Duchamp, Miro, Delvaux, Ernst and others.
In one room, for example, you see works by Bruce Nauman and Magritte hanging side by side. What have these two to say to each other? A great deal, as it happens. Nauman's early work – and this one, 'Knot an Ear', shows us a wax impression of an ear fashioned from a length of twisted rope – was often text-based, and had that same element of teasing relationship between the visual and the verbal that you so often found in Magritte.