The (free!) exhibition that opened at the Scottish National Gallery Modern One this weekend displays their newest acquisitions spanning 110 years, hence the title New Arrivals: From Salvador Dali to Jenny Saville. The new arrivals are displayed across the entire ground floor of the neoclassical building, and with the exhibition remaining open until 2023, the artworks on display will be changed throughout.
Patrick Elliot, the exhibition’s curator, explained that the opening had been delayed due to COVID-19, but this allowed for more time to organise the exhibition. This is reflected in the careful consideration of the arrangement of each room. Although the exhibition features works from a wide range of styles and movements, there is a theme to each room. One room displays surrealist art, showing the first painting by Marc Chagall to enter Scotland’s national collection L’Écuyère [The Horse Rider], 1949 – 1953. Another is dedicated to Ciara Phillips’ prints, another focuses on identity and representation. Here Jenny Saville’s 1992 Nude (Study for ‘Branded’) is on display as the artist’s first work to enter a public collection in the U.K.
The historical, social, and political relevance of the works, such as Marie-Louise von Motesiczky’s paintings and Alberta Whittle’s woodcuts, are explained to the audiences in the wall texts provided. The careful thought that informed the selection and display of the works presented is best shown in Wangechi Mutu’s Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (2004-2005) a series of twelve collages that challenges the cultural objectification of women of colour. The room lighting specifically picks up the sparkles in the glitter used by Mutu enhancing the work’s material and better communicating its meaning.
The exhibition complements the permanent display on the first floor of the gallery. Joan Eardley’s landscape paintings of Catterline, for example, could be paired with the new arrivals of Scottish landscapes, and the world-famous surrealist collection is strengthened by the new arrivals of Salvador Dalí’s iconic Lobster Telephone (1938), Leonora Carrington’s Portrait of Max Ernst (c. 1939), and Dorothea Tanning’s Tableau vivant [Living Picture] (1954).
However, New Arrivals also offers something new; the thematic, rather than stylistic, arrangement creates a sense of connection between the new arrivals and the viewer, while the permanent display acts as a survey of modern art. This is highlighted by two rooms in New Arrivals for video installations that explore Scottish history from a contemporary position. Graham Fagen’s The Slave’s Lament(2015) interprets Robert Burns’ 200-year-old-poem in a musical arrangement that is shown on four screens in front of the panelled wall of the neoclassical building. The decision to show the piece alone in the space allows the viewer an immersive experience. A similar focus is achieved through the positioning of Hanna Tuulikki’s SING-SIGN: a close duet (2015) in a dark, black room. Because of this curatorial choice, the viewer can fully concentrate on singing and signing responding to the history of the closes that run from the Royal Mile. Phillips’ prints room also creates a striking space to involve the viewer to engage with the socially conscious works hosted by it. The room is painted in greyscale to match the prints themselves echoing how the works were exhibited in Phillips’ show, Show Me Your Glow at the Glasgow Print Studio in 2018. There are rooms that had a lessened impact, but the works were still impactful in themselves.
Overall, New Arrivals reveals the prominence of the Scottish national collection of modern art and masterfully connects this exhibit to the permanent collection upstairs. It has taken years to curate, and this is clear in the arrangement of the expansive exhibition. Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland, said:
“Acquisitions breathe new life into our collections. They allow us to reflect the latest developments in Scotland and beyond, reinforcing the strength of our existing collections and research. Thanks to gifts, bequests and support from charitable funds and private donors, the national collection continues to grow in exciting new directions. We are very pleased to be able to share these works with our visitors and encourage everyone to come and be inspired in the discovery of our new arrivals.”
Image: Salvador Dalí (1904-89) and Edward James(1907-1984)Lobster Telephone (1938). Edward James Foundation and Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS, London 2021