IT WAS acclaimed as the most dramatic cultural project of the Nineties: 'A move Forth to the Clyde'. But the decision last week to abandon plans for a National Gallery of Scottish Art in Glasgow, six months after the project was announced, has left the country's art establishment bitterly divided.
Curators and senior galleries staff have accused the two men behind it - Angus Grossart, chairman of the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, and Timothy Clifford, the director - of damaging Scotland's artistic institutions.
Mr Grossart, a banker, and Mr Clifford, an English art historian, failed to consult adequately over the plan, they said.
'Grossart and Clifford have presided over a total bloody shambles,' one curator said. 'They spent three years and tens of thousands of pounds of public money dreaming up an unnecessary project to create a ghetto of Scottish art.
'They did not take account of the warnings from us and the few others whom they bothered to ask that it would create a huge storm,' he added.
'The proposed gallery has collapsed around them, making them and the institutions they manage look extremely foolish and amateur. Grossart and Clifford should take responsibility and resign.'
The Scottish Gallery project, first mooted by Mr Clifford in 1991, drew controversy last year when he and Mr Grossart announced details. Their insistence that paintings displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh should form the core of the new collection, to be housed in a pounds 25m building in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park, prompted a furious reaction.
In February, one month after 1,000 people met at Edinburgh College of Art to protest against 'this act of artistic vandalism', Mr Grossart backed down. He said the trustees had decided that the Portrait Gallery would remain in the capital, but he remained 'committed to the policy of building the new gallery'.
On Monday the Government announced that it would not finance the Kelvingrove development. Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, said the project did not enjoy 'broad general support'.
His decision was greeted with contempt in Glasgow. Jean McFadden, leader of the city's district council, accused him of 'a world-class display of spinelessness' in capitulating to 'the lowest levels of middle-class Edinburgh bigotry and prejudice against Glasgow'.
In Edinburgh, Mr Lang's criticisms prompted Mr Clifford to distance himself from the debacle, insisting that Mr Grossart was to blame 'if anyone is to blame'. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday he said: 'Any fault lies with the board. It is nothing to do with the director.'
He insisted that he and the trustees 'consulted widely' and blamed the 'unexpected ferocity' of the battle between Edinburgh and Glasgow for the climbdown.
Mr Grossart insisted last week that a gallery with 'Scottish content' would be built in Glasgow by the year 2000. He declined to comment on calls for his resignation.
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