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‘From Death to Death and Other Small Tales’ Exhibition – a Pipe Review

 

scottish-national-gallery-of-modern-artScottish National Gallery of Modern Art, minus the wind and rain

 

This piece is intended at letting anyone who reads it know - fairly briefly - what I thought of the current exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (which can be found in Edinburgh at this address: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR; a location which really is as beautiful as the previous photo suggests). The show is titled, From Death to Death and Other Small Tales and I can recommend it to anyone who is in Edinburgh, or will be visiting in early to mid 2013.

 

This show allowed me to see, first hand the work of the artist Robert Gober. Seeing his work ‘up close’ made somewhat of an effect on me and has encouraged me to write a second piece exclusively about his art. This article concludes by introducing this subsequent written piece, which will be posted in the coming days.

 

Robert-Gober-portraitA portrait of Robert Gober .image copyright owned  by the artist

 

With something in the region of 130 pieces of modern and contemporary art, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh has managed to stage a show which intrigues, disturbs and disgusts in equal measure. From Death to Death and Other Small Tales is an exhibition that brings together work from two significant collections. These two sources are the galleries own, and from the collection of D. Daskalopoulos, the wealthy Greek business man and owner of Greece’s largest food company. Daskalopoulos has acquired one of the most impressive collections of Modern and Post-Modern Art by any single private collector. Different edits from this collection have also been made widely available for public viewing in recent years. Daskalopoulos has previously lent works to, and worked alongside the likes of The Whitechaple Gallery, The Guggenheim and The Tate - as well as other internationally renowned art galleries.

 

Dimitris-DaskalopoulosArt collector and business person D. Daskalopoulos; much of the works in the show come from his private collection

 

This exhibition truly is a joyful experience and a rare chance to see in a single show such a quantity of works by so many highly regarded artists - past and present. On top of this, the fact that the show is free seems almost bizarre - with art institutions being as they are these days. Of late, having mostly experienced only what London and Scandinavia has to offer culturally and the expense that comes with this, I am hugely pleased to announce that this is the case with this show. Free or not, the quality of the works, the exhibition’s curatorial layout and the general sensation one gets when experiencing the show, makes for a thoroughly engaging time. Therefore, take note, that great art does not always have to come at a price (or such a high price anyway). In terms of quality and contemporary relevance, in my view, here is a show that truly is as good as they come anywhere in the world. But please don’t simply take my word for it, go and see it for yourself.

 

Print The poster for the exhibition; it changes, see?

 

My only slight criticisms are, firstly the title. It doesn’t really ‘roll off the tough’ as it were; or remain with you to any meaningful extent. I would suggest that such a title as this, for a contemporary art exhibition seems almost ‘all encompassing’ as to verge on the inconsequential. Initially I also found the poster to be a little odd too. I am not sure if it is the design or the over blown title of the show that gave me this impression, perhaps a little of both. But the name of the exhibition hardly jumps out at you when examining this document. Constructed like a sort of ‘family tree’ designed system; it attempts to connect artists together in what appears to be a somewhat random fashion. After seeing the show I realised some of the possible reasoning behind these connections and could appreciate this approach to the design a little more. Nether the less, these are all fairly minor issues and simply my own observations; which may I add weren’t shared entirely by my immediate company on the day. In no way did any of these discussions detract from what is an excellent exhibition. It did make for an interesting debate however.

 

GML 1808 SARAH LUCAS - HQ1-SL0051S Bunny gets Snookered #10 i Picasso’s Nu Assis (Seated Nude) ‘aimed’ directly at Sarah Lucas’s ‘Bunny’

 

D_Max_Ernst_Showing_a_Young_Girl_the_Head_of_his_Father_1927Max Ernst’s surreal classic, Showing a Young Girl the Head of his Father

 

felt suitJoseph Beuys’ now iconic Felt Suit, which features in the show

 

The real power of this exhibition is the use of the juxtaposition and comparison between works. Sarah Lucas’s sculpture Bunny Gets Snookered #10 (1997) is situated in the centre of one room surrounded by paintings by Picasso (Nu Assis; 1969) and an Otto Dix painting, which is of a rather creepy elfish female nude. These both face ‘Bunny’ in an interrogatory fashion, further adding to her already weird, ‘fetishisized’ state. In another exchange, a Max Ernst painting (Showing a Young Girl the Head of his Father; 1927) is in an interesting visual dialogue with Robert Gober’s cot shaped sculpture, X Crib (1987). That in turn leads into another space and seems to merge thematically and aesthetically with Beuys’ famous Felt Suit (1970) and his cement filled cupboard, with embalmed chair inside. The power of subversive distortions and alterations of the ‘everyday’ are strong in these viewing experiences. The ubiquitous pairing of Beuys and Matthew Barney occurs here as well. Matthew however, being the only artist to be allocated a room entirely to himself, is still placed very much ‘beside Beuys’ - as one would have expected. Barney’s entire ‘Cremaster Cycle’ is being screened in his room, with artefacts and original copies of the film placed in his beautifully designed latrines below each screen. His specifically designed iconography and symbolic references are paired with the final realisation of the ‘Cycle’ itself. The wax, felt bond is still strong yet again between these two artists. The use of wax as a material of commonality goes beyond the well known Beuys, Barney relationship. In close proximity are Gober’s Untitled (Torso; 1990) - a dual gendered torso, split down the middle, made from beeswax. This is coupled with Bruce Nauman’s Knot an Ear (1967), which also is cast in a wax material.

 

MATTHEW BARNEY - CREMASTER 2 (1) Matthew Barney’s beautifully made latrine - cast from wax, with the original copy of Cremaster 2 encased inside and accompanied with the artist made leather wallet

 

bruce nauman ear gober torso Bruce Nauman’s Knot an Ear and Gober’s Untitled piece

 

I feel the spacing between the works adds to the sense of this being a thematically connected collection; making the linkages between works, on the whole largely convincing. The works are mainly presented in an appropriate way, which allows them their own space to exist and manifest within the gallery and in turn in the viewer’s own imagination. This too helps to make stronger the connections between the other pieces within each artworks immediate environment. The overriding sense, after having seen this show is one of works belonging together. This is of course a manufactured sensation, as all these practitioners - of various reputations, styles and quality - have worked totally separate from one another. However the way in which they have been brought together under one ‘banner’, both creates a wholly coherent exhibition and one that flows and stimulates through out. This is evidently testament to the success of the show and its organisers.

 

Robert-Gober-3-540x529Untitled 2007-2008 by Robert Gober .image copyright owned  by the artist

 

Robert-Gober-11-540x453Gober’s work Untitled 1989-1990, that features in the exhibition .image copyright owned  by the artist

 

For me the artist whose work stood out in the show the most was by someone that I must confess I knew only a little of before my visit. Robert Gober’s sculptures were powerful, clever, politically aware and in my view embodied most succinctly the show’s overall themes. These are blatantly death, the body, sexuality, politics and the narratives and relationships that exist between these complex subject matters. In the case of most of the other works they have, to varying degrees, been re-contextualised or re-appropriated in order to fit with the shows dominant themes. This is of course almost always the case where collective shows, curated and driven by a specific subject matter, are concerned. However with regards Gober’s work, (and after further research into his artwork, this legitimised my initial assumption) I feel that the ideas behind this show are totally compatible and synonymous with much of the dominate themes which exist in his work. Whether this was the reason that I made a greater connection with his sculptures, or whether it was simply just because of their unquestionable strength of purpose, seems slightly irrelevant now. What I can say is that, through this exhibition and its success, I am now pleased to announce that a follow up article, looking in more depth at the work of Robert Gober is currently being researched. Therefore if you are interested in this artist, keep an eye on Pipe as more details on this (and other assignments besides) will follow soon…

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