The comments in the visitor’s book are a mixed bunch, and if you don’t know John McCracken’s work already then they might help you gauge in advance whether you’ll enjoy this exhibition: ‘The emperor has no clothes’. ‘I agree’. ‘Dull’. ‘A very lazy artist’.
But if you like Barnett Newman and Callum Innes you may well appreciate McCracken’s output, which consists of large, shiny, coloured prisms, usually, although not exclusively, in cuboid form. He has received most attention for a series of pieces with plank-like dimensions, which he leans against walls as though they were part-way between sculpture and canvas.
As far as the emperor’s state of undress is concerned, I wasn’t unreservedly convinced. Sketchbook drawings (all signed and dated) are covered in notes to self and/or posterity. ‘Clean, marvelous color. That is the vision I’ve had from a long time ago but keep forgetting. MAYBE I SHOULD FORGET IT. and then …’
There is something compelling, though, about these ungiving, highly reflective surfaces with their shiny names (‘Ace’, ‘Hotshot’) and racing-car bonnet texture, and they hold you so magnetically within their power-radius of reflection and fascination that it really does seem relevant for McCracken to ask ‘If a piece is blue, what colour is the space around it?’ It’s the attraction of the shiny, inexplicable found-object, clearly a foreign intrusion into its surroundings (visitors, gallery, botanic gardens beaming green through all the windows) and yet interacting with them after its own glossy, alien fashion.
‘Interesting idea: these are beings of another world transmitting themselves through me. Don’t ask me why they’re here.’
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until Sun 11 Oct