The stories it tells of my oyster are so fascinating—how it grew and where, what the shape, color, and rippling hues of its black-and-white-striped shell reveal about its decade of experiences—as if to open up an oceanic tale. My choice reveals an interest in art, she deduces, and we both know she could continue to play the character this way, except I’m much more interested in seafood. This is the living memory of the oyster.
Hector Dyer readings (weekends only – book now, book fast) are part of In the swirl of the currenta beautiful exhibition Inverleith House in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens dealing with marine creatures, flora and fauna in the context of history and politics. The kitchen sections, Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, shortlisted for last year’s Turner Prize, have the top galleries for a sequence of exquisite sculptures. What looks like a Roman mosaic floor is created entirely from crushed seashells. What look like nets, ropes and chains are made from heather, seaweed and purple moor grass on Skye.
The couple’s environmental activism, against salmon farming, for example, isn’t easily summed up in works of art, but these are exceptions, specifically a suspended silver sculpture that rhymes the patterns of a salmon’s scales with the rings of a pine tree to make connections about our water treatment that supposedly supports them both.
On the ground floor, the Palestinian Sakiya collective has placed specimens of Edwardian flowers from what used to be called the Holy Land along with Sakiya postcards exposing their contemporary significance. Miss Howard sends home a carefully pressed herb, c1902, which is treasured for its silvery beauty in the West Bank today. It’s like an EM Forster story: the politics of botany, told through disjointed postal narratives.
Essentially an umbrella term for all the city’s summer exhibitions, Edinburgh’s art festival extends, like the new trams, all the way to Leith, where Salvadoran artist José Campos, alias Study Lencashows scathing photographic self-portraits in meter saw. With the simple resource of a soccer ball, some lace or a tablecloth becomes a Latin American Madonna.
Up on the bridges, the Talbot Rice Gallery has a london show Celine Condorelli, where art meets architectural history. A leafy interior garden refers to Brazilian modernism, an installation of words and photos reveals the untold story of indoor plants in famous exhibitions (Rousseaus next to cheese plants, for example), another of words and prints recounts the labor history of the Pirelli tire factory in Turin.
See these heads looking at you and the urge is to go straight home and try to make one yourself.
Research (and objects) feel too diverse and scattered. But a film that focuses on the creation of a playground in South London turns the theory into beautiful form. Past, present and future are superimposed in spectral images and come together in an unforgettable atmospheric poem about London written and voiced by Jay Bernard.
daniel silveris looking at fruit market, turns the viewer into the seen. A Greek choir of clay busts stares back at you from the steel steps at the entrance: the audience watches. Each one is not so much painted as seemingly created from paint. Thick strokes of indigo, ocher and cobalt, mouths blood red or dark amber, with touches of all kinds of art from the ancient shamans to Degas and Modigliani, they are a spectacular combination of image and sculpture.
The sense of touch, and why it is so important, continues in the watercolor and Japanese ink drawings made while the London-based artist was in Death Valley, California. Huge heads emerge from a kind of instinctive drawing that can be ancient or modern. A bright orange face oscillates between caricature, old master and cave painting. Silver’s art is thought-provoking and profoundly human. Look at these heads looking back at you, each with their own force of personality, and the impulse is to go straight home and try to make one yourself.
Across the street, Edinburgh City Art Center trace the history of Scottish Association for Modern Arts, founded in 1907 to develop the collection now housed in that building (and surprisingly rejected by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art when it first opened, at Inverleith House, in 1960). The show features all the usual Glasgow Boys and Scots colourists, but also many intensely original paintings of women (Joan Eardley, Anne Redpath) and a dazzling seascape by William McTaggart, each horizontal stroke across the canvas, a reminder how brilliantly it could suggest the cold, liquid restlessness of the Scottish coast.
The origins of much here, however, are in the warmth of the southern Mediterranean, specifically French modernism, the theme of this year’s edition. Scottish National Gallery box office hit at the Royal Scottish Academy building. taste for impressionism it’s magnificent, room after room of astonishing masterpieces from the nation’s museums: Monet’s resplendent poplars, Van Gogh’s orchard brimming with ultra-bright flowers, Gauguin’s stunned Martinique. Degas’ dancers appear alongside Seurat’s silver Corots and sparkling gardens. An entire wall of Vuillard’s secret Parisian interiors is replaced by Matisse’s entire ensemble of jazzy prints.
There is an entertaining and judicious organizing narrative, which is how Scottish railway engineers, Liberal MPs and jam barons bought French art. This is told through curator Frances Fowle’s very clever subtitles, including a couple of forgeries to reveal just how cleverly these early 20th century collectors could be fooled. A real Millet hangs next to what may well be a fake, but you have to use your own eyes.
Some of these paintings are world famous. Monet’s amazing haystacks, purple, mauve and amber, against the sparkling snowy sunset, just before the light fades. How could he get that massive vision in time, before nightfall? Or how could he remember it so perfectly afterwards? by Gauguin Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the angel) here it is, all those heads of Breton women with their strange white hats framing the strange wrestling match, like a winged insect with four legs, against the pulsating crimson ground.
But there are plenty of revelations gleaned from the back rooms of museums, including Manet’s prints of the firing squad, which show street fighting during the Paris Commune in 1871. An X-ray of a previously unknown Van Gogh self-portrait painted on the back of head of a peasant woman appears in a light box next to the front of the painting. (It’s unexpectedly conventional.) Most striking is Courbet’s terrifying dark wave, an ultramarine peak rising from white foam, straight out of Japanese painting.
The elegant galleries of William Henry Playfair are painted in dazzling Impressionist colors and the lighting is magnificent. I have never seen a better show at the Royal Scottish Academy. Many visitors will have grown up with some of these paintings (Degas portraits, Blue Period Picassos), but this presentation allows them a respite they rarely get. No one needs to go abroad to see so many French masterpieces. They’re all here in a building in Edinburgh.
Cooking Sections and Sakiya: In the Eddy of the Stream is at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, until September 18
The Invisibles by Studio Lenca is at Sierra Metro, Leith, until August 28
Céline Condorelli: After Work is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until October 1
Daniel Silver: Looking is at Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, until September 26.
National Treasure: The Scottish Association for Modern Arts is at the City Art Center in Edinburgh until October 16
A Taste for Impressionism: Modern French Art from Millet to Matisse is at the Scottish National Gallery (RSA Building), Edinburgh, until 13 November