Iain Gale on exhibitions

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The Independent Culture
What is it about the "school of London" painters - Bacon, Freud, Andrews, Kitaj, Kossoff and Auerbach - that makes them such abiding sources of controversy? Together, in Edinburgh, they make compelling viewing: grand old men forever known by their youthful achievements. Seen apart, though, they continue to provoke. Last year we had Kitaj's vilification at the Tate; more recently, Kossoff's Venice Biennale show moved the critics to extremes of adulation and dismissal. Now, Frank Auerbach's spirited old-Master-inspired exhibition at the National Gallery looks set to elicit similar responses of indignation and eulogy.

It is hard to imagine a better contrast to Auerbach's long-standing love- affair with paint than the Tate's new display of recent acquisitions, in which (pace Lisa Milroy) there is hardly a brush-stroke to be seen. But, if you are tempted to adopt the classic "Outraged of Tunbridge Wells" stance, remember that much of the budget for contemporary work comes from the pockets of the Patrons of New Art (instigators of the Turner Prize), and so is not "public money" but, as Nick Serota once cheekily reminded Margaret "that's not art" Thatcher, "a gift". With that in mind, it becomes harder to knock the inventiveness of Hirst, Whiteread, Opie and their ilk, whose work, seen in the context of the international "Rites of Passage" show in the next gallery, has much to say for British art today.

'From London: Six British Painters', Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Belford Road, Edinburgh (0131 556 8921) to 5 Sept.

See listings for Tate Gallery details

Left: detail from Kitaj's 'Women and Men 1991-3', oil on canvas

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