Artist Rooms: d’Offay Collection
Neil Cooper assesses the significance of Artist Rooms, a major series of exhibitions of work by international artists, drawn from the d’Offay collection
Outside of major retrospectives, the opportunity to see bodies of work by international artists doesn’t come along too often. This is what struck collector and dealer Anthony d’Offay when he first mooted the Artist Rooms project, which bears its first fruit this month with a series of exhibitions shown simultaneously in galleries across the country. Most high profile of these will be the six rooms at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which sets its benchmark with work drawn from d’Offay’s collection by Damien Hirst, Vija Celmins, Alex Katz, Francesca Woodman and Andy Warhol.
‘Anthony d’Offay had a very clear vision of wanting to see the work in a monographic context,’ says Lucy Askew, managing curator of Artist Rooms. ‘He began with the principal of not just wanting the collection seen in Edinburgh and London or else just stored away, but to be seen in a wide range of venues that maybe aren’t used to housing works like this. With this in mind, in 2009 we’re taking work to 13 galleries, so as well as the artists appearing in Edinburgh, we’ve got Robert Mapplethorpe in Inverness and Bruce Naumann in Orkney. Then next year the works will move elsewhere.’
This approach not only de-centralises and democratises the work beyond national institutions, including the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, to whom d’Offay bequeathed his collection, making it more accessible to a truly national audience. It also offers the potential to influence and inspire a new generation of artists. In this respect, Artist Rooms sounds akin to the effect of Tramway’s 1990 opening in Glasgow, when audiences could see revered international artists first hand in a less rarefied environment than was traditional.
‘It’s very much a collaborative venture,’ Askew points out, ‘We hope it will be a catalyst to build some really ambitious projects so it can open up some real creative possibilities. It’s also about seeing Scotland in an international context.’
Highlights of the pilot shows include some of Hirst’s early indulgences with formaldehyde, late and rarely seen paintings by Warhol, a complete series of landscapes by Katz and images of seas, deserts and night-skies by Celmins. Later in the year, work by American painter Agnes Martin will also go on display as part of a rolling programme that looks set to be in repertoire in one or other of the programme’s partner galleries for at least the next five years.
‘Because the works have come entirely from Anthony d’Offay’s collection it’s not purporting to be comprehensive or definitive,’ says Askew. ‘What it is doing is showing pieces by major international figures in a way that allows audiences to put them in context with some of their other work. Much of it reflects a very interesting time during the 1980s and 1990s, much of which will be being seen in the UK for the first time. We’ll be showing 69 pieces by Diane Arbus, for instance. The possibility to be able to do that, and for audiences to see them, that is amazing, and the possibilities that then opens up are even more so.’
Artist Rooms, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Sat 14 Mar–Sun 8 Nov.