7 August- 27 September
Collective Gallery/ Dean Gallery/ Talbot Rice Gallery
Often I find that installations in art galleries fail to interest me. There is that notion of pretension within “contemporary art” which generally repulses rather than woos the spectator.
I certainly found that last year many people came to see the Tracey Emin retrospective at the Gallery of Modern Art to criticise it rather than to observe its artistic merit. Not so the Enlightenments exhibition.
Indeed after viewing the works of Greg Creek, Joshua Mosley, Lee Mingwei and others I was genuinely disappointed to discover that I would be unable to see the Tacita Dean piece due to a technical flaw. The majority of the exhibition is housed in the Dean Gallery, which is to my mind a more refreshing space as it tends to be quieter than its sister buildings. Furthermore, the slightly quirky layout was at its best on the day I selected to view the exhibition as from the balcony space I could look down on the wonderful festival singers below.
There were limited works on show but I enjoyed this as the intimate gallery space was not filled, which allowed you to focus more on the individual pieces. There was almost a room for each artist and the beautiful Chattershapes 2008-2009 by Greg Creek illustrated the walls of the halls. The watercolour facial portraits were strong but delicate which offset beautifully with the pen and ink architectural city scapes. There was also still that childish thrill when I recognised a particular place or piece of architecture and so any viewers’ native to Edinburgh will particularly enjoy these seven panels.
If there is one flaw with some galleries, it is the preoccupation with labels beside pieces telling you how you should view them and what conditions and events moulded their creation. These can be interesting and informative but I was delighted that the curators of the Enlightenments favoured merely putting dates, artist names and titles alongside the works. Not only did this avoid a flock of people trying to read the essay accompanying the piece but it directed all attention onto personal interpretation and appreciation.
Gabriella de Vietri’s ‘Hark! What is beauty? What is out there? How do we live together?’ challenged children through questioning them on beauty, death and relationships with some comic, but also very revealing, reflections. Lee Mingwei truly included the spectator in his work Letter Writing Project through encouraging them to write the letters that they had always meant to, but had never got around to writing. The concept was that if you put the paper in an envelope it was private but that any left unsealed could be read by anyone. I devoted some time to seeing what people regretted not saying and felt the need to leave in this public space. Some were standard… (I like this guy but he doesn’t like me…) but others were extremely moving. I was particularly touched by one addressed to ‘An artist among artists’.
I will be returning to the Dean to re-view the Enlightenments and to see the complete exhibition- and I would advise any one with an hour or so to visit one of the three galleries housing this exhibition