The Student
Review
Reduct at the Royal Scottish Academy
by Laura Baliman, 29/10/20

Open until 22nd November, but also viewable online, Reduct is the Royal Scottish Academy’s new exhibition highlighting abstraction and geometry in Scottish art. Its mission is to ‘examine the ways in which non-objective expression remains a compelling approach one hundred years after it was first taken up by the early avant-garde’. This exhibition certainly fulfils that aim, as there is nothing out-dated or archaic about the vibrant artworks it presents.

As the title suggests, reduction is a key element of each artwork. All the weight and passion of the century is reduced into abstract shapes and often unadulterated colour. Whilst such practice may not, unlike much contemporary art, operate as a critique of social issues, it offers the visitor a place of rest and respite. To this end, the exhibition does not offer any explanation of each piece, which works well alongside their state of reduction and purposeful enigma.

Lack of over-explanation also works towards abstraction’s aim of non-objective expression. There is no way, unless you already know the artist or piece, that you could immediately ‘understand’ or ‘know’ anything about the meaning upon sight of it. ‘Knowing’ anything about these artworks is a purely personal pursuit – furiously subjective. It would be a great exhibition to attend alone, in order to fully recognise such subjectivity. Many of the pieces build upon this idea by refusing the act of being seen: William Braithwaite’s Concrete Multitude III cuts tiny staircase-shapes into alpine marble: there is nowhere for the staircase to go, and thus nowhere for the viewer to ‘complete’ any true viewing of the artwork.

Even for an art-historian, an abstract exhibition is always a daunting activity, as we all desire to ‘understand’ the art and fill our afternoon with meaning and profundity. But the RSA’s open space (which is also conducive to social-distancing) and absence of complex captioning makes this exhibition a calming experience. As its introduction suggests, it is the ‘pared-back elegance’ that is most striking about the collection and its curation.

Image: John McLean (2011) – courtesy of the Royal Scottish Academy.