Galleries/Venues: Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art 1540 to Now, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.
Dates: RSA Ages of Wonder Edinburgh, 4 November 2017 – 7 January 2018 / RSA Annual Exhibition 2018, 5 May 2018 – 6 June 2018
This project was a commissioned installation/portrait for the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art 1540 to Now. The research investigated the creative possibilities in making an artwork in public view, open to public interrogation, questioning how a process of interaction with an audience could stimulate collective memory and provoke discussion around national identity, poetry and politics. To what extent could this provocation become a collective endeavour? Can artworks be successfully created in this manner, and can the contextual research move beyond the artistic to the public?
The subject, Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978) was one of Scotland’s most influential and controversial writers. Communist, fascist, Scottish Nationalist, MacDiarmid’s avowed intent was to ‘aye be whaur extremes meet’ (A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, 1926). Variously “the most important figure in Scottish life in the twentieth century” and “a symbol of all that’s perfectly hideous in Scotland”, his poetry is of historic, and national, significance (Riach 1999).
The research methodology involved relocating the artist’s studio to the confines of the RSA Galleries. The public engaged with the artist during the nine-week run, and objects, an undiscovered letter, and books related to the subject were contributed by the public with scheduled and impromptu talks and discussions.
Subsequently the finished portrait won the City of Glasgow College Purchase Prize at the RSA Annual Exhibition 2018, curated by Colvin.
The exhibition Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art from 1540 until Today was a curatorial and editorial research project led by Arthur Watson. As secretary, then president, Watson led a five-year research project within the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) to survey its collections and library. Following this, an endowment was established to address gaps in these historic holdings, while raising their profile within the museum sector. Importantly, the study set the agenda for this major exhibition charting the academy’s entwined history with the National Galleries of Scotland.
Central to the exhibition was a group of master works from the Academy collection, (currently held by the National Galleries) that had not been seen together since their gift in 1910. Around this, the audience was invited to explore the conventions of exhibition-making over three centuries, from the Victorian salon to the white cube.
For example, the ways in which artists and architects have, and continue, to make work were explained through live projects in the galleries: re-visiting the Academy Life School taught each week by Academicians; engagements with contemporary printmaking on a historic press; and through public engagement with artist-inresidence Calum Colvin, whose constructed installation towards a photographic portrait of poet and polemicist Hugh MacDiarmid stimulated ongoing debate around Scottish cultural identity.
‘Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art from 1540 until Today’ (4 November 2017 – 7 January 2018) attracted 67,178 visitors over 63 days – with many others attending related lectures, talks and events. Touring selections travelled to a further seven venues.
Hugh McDiarmid once famously wrote that he wished he ‘kent the physical basis/O’ a lifes seemin airs and graces’.
Now the seminal Scottish poet’s famous ruminations on life, the universe and Scotland in his landmark poem, A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle, seem to have come to life, in an ongoing work of art at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in Edinburgh.
The work of art by the Scottish artist Calum Colvin is taking shape in the building, which takes a appropriately three-dimensional look at the poet, whose real name was Christopher Murray Grieve.
The artwork, a trompe-l’oeil – an installation which tricks the eye – is part of the Ages of Wonder exhibition at the RSA, which celebrates the history of Scottish art at the RSA as well as its contemporary work.
Mr Colvin is working on the artwork in public, and holding conversations with visitors to the exhibition as he works and they pass.
He said: “I normally work alone in a dark studio but it’s been great meeting people and chatting to them as they pass and I’ve been able to explain the creative process.”
Mr Colvin began work on the portrait of the poet and essayist – which combines sculpture, photography, painting and installation – in early November and hopes to have it completed before Christmas.
The artwork includes contributions from the public, including a book, and a letter by the poet.
Colvin said he chose the poet as a subject because he was a controversial figure, but also an honorary academician.
The exhibition continues into early January.
Ages of Wonder is inspired by the moment in 1910 when the Royal Scottish Academy transferred a number of significant works to the national collection in the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), securing exhibiting rights within the building shared by the two institutions today.
The Academy had been a force behind the establishment of a national collection, and NGS and RSA had previously co-existed in what is now the National Gallery of Scotland.
Ages of Wonder reunites RSA works transferred to NGS with a selection of those remaining in the Academy.
The exhibition includes over 450 works by over 270 artists and architects, from the masterpiece ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ painted by Jacopo Bassano of 1540, to recent works by Callum Innes, and Alison Watt, and works commissioned for and during the exhibition by Colvin, Kenny Hunter and Richard Murphy.
Artist makes 3D portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid for new exhibition
Hugh MacDiarmid stars in a huge installation by artist Calum Colvin as part of a new exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.
Colvin, whose unique portraits incorporate sculpture, photography and painting, has previously depicted Robert Burns and Bonnie Prince Charlie. His latest piece, which is not yet complete, forms part of the Ages of Wonder show,
which runs until January and celebrates the history of Scottish art at the RSA. Colvin began work on the portrait last month, and aims to complete it before Christmas.
It includes a letter by the writer, whose real name was Christopher Murray Grieve, as well as items given by members of the public, such as a book.
The Dundee University professor said working on the piece in a public space has helped him connect with audiences. He said: “I normally work alone in a dark studio but it’s been great meeting people and chatting to them as they pass and I’ve been able to explain the creative process.”
As the largest collections exhibition ever mounted by the RSA, the show includes more than 450 works by upwards of 270 artists and architects, including painter Alison Watt and Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes.
It reunites artworks that were transferred to the national collection in the National Galleries of Scotland in 1910 and also features Jacopo Bassano’s 1540 work The Adoration of the Magi.
The Scottish Poetry Library calls Langholm-born MacDiarmid the country’s “most influential and controversial writer” of the 20th century.
Described as an “eccentric and often maddening genius” by fellow poet Edwin Morgan, he is perhaps best known for long-form modernist work A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, which takes on issues related to the nation and the human condition.
He died in Edinburgh in 1978, having written extensively in both Scots and English.
Exhibition 2: RSA Annual Exhibition 2018 : 5 May 2018 – 6 June 2018.