VISUAL ARTS Surrealism and After Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Friday 11 July 1997
Keiller began collecting after the death of her husband, the marmalade heir Alexander Keiller, in the late 1950s; tentatively at first, with a few old masters, but with increasing flair and originality. The exhibition begins with a little painting of a statue in a park by Henri Rousseau, bought in 1959, the first purchase (Rousseau was something of a hero among the Surrealists) to give any hint of what lay ahead.
The turning-point came a year later, when, on a visit to Venice, she saw Eduardo Paolozzi's show in the British Pavilion at the Biennale. Paolozzi became a friend, Keiller his greatest patron: the 70 or so works by him in her collection, starting with a self-portrait drawn when he was just 11, are by far the best group of his works anywhere in the world.
This exhibition is entitled Surrealism and After, but includes a number of earlier items, such as a spooky 19th-century drawing by Flaxman and, even earlier still (by a few thousand years), a wonderful Cycladic carving of a woman with folded arms. Among its highlights are several works that Keiller bought from Roland Penrose in the 1970s, including Magritte's brilliantly sexy nether regions portrait, La Representation; Picabia's iconic machine parts Fille nee sans Mere; and Giacometti's rhino-like little sculpture, Objet Desagreable - all key works of their time and, like many of Keiller's best things, small in scale. She had an eye for intimate, personal pictures and for the sort of archive material that helps one get close to the men and women who created them: letters, photographs, countless books and catalogues, and a few assorted oddities including the script of an unmade Dali film. Her favourites, by all accounts, were a Warhol portrait of her dachshund Maurice and, of course, her Paolozzis.
Paolozzi has sometimes seemed a hard artist to place, living in London, working in Germany, and vigorously claimed by the Scots, despite having left his home in Leith over 50 years ago. Next year, as if to prove the point, the National Galleries of Scotland are opening the Paolozzi Gift, a suite of rooms dedicated to his archive and the contents of his studio. He has plans, it is said, to make regular visits and even to work on site. When this was first announced, it seemed preposterous that so much attention should be given to one man, but after seeing this exhibition I'm not so sure.
Paolozzi looms large over the Keiller collection, not just because of the wealth of his own work, but as a living link with the art of the past. One senses that it was his friendship that brought Dada and Surrealism alive for Keiller and the presence of his work here has much the same effect. It is proposed that the gallery's new Dean Centre will house the Keiller and Penrose archives as well as the Paolozzi Gift. All of a sudden their plans make perfect sense.
To 9 Nov. Tel: 0131-624 620 Richard Ingleby
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