Seeing Ian Hamilton Finlay's work indoors proves claustrophobic (3 stars)

Seeing Ian Hamilton Finlay's work indoors proves claustrophobic

Exhibition of work by polymath behind Little Sparta garden is hymn to nature

There’s something slightly claustrophobic about seeing Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work indoors. As anyone who’s basked in the glories of the radical polymath’s Little Sparta garden in Dunsyre near Edinburgh will be aware, Hamilton Finlay was so at one with nature that a civic gallery space doesn’t seem right somehow.

This first floor exhibition sets a small selection of works alongside complementary material by fellow travellers Paolozzi, George Wylie, Nathan Coley and Kenny Hunter, with two recently acquired sculptures as its apparent centrepiece. An entire wall is devoted to Martyn Greenhalgh’s moodily serene photographs of Little Sparta itself.

As if confirming a life-long quest for somewhere purer, sailing boats are to the fore among Hamilton Finlay’s classicist allusions. Of the newly acquired works, ‘Two Temples: To Apollo His Music-His Missiles-His Music’ consists of two biscuit-tin sized slate drums. The title piece is carved with the same wording as that of the Garden Temple at Little Sparta, while its companion piece, ‘CN16’, features a fishing boat. Together, the pair could be pillars for the grandest of model villages.

Odd, then, that they’re tucked around the corner from the main exhibition, leaving the actual focal point a bold text-based piece on the far wall. If the words ‘REVOLUTION, VIRTUE, ELOQUENCE, TRANSPARENCY’ sum up a lifetime’s philosophy, it’s left to a small work depicting languid picnickers basking among the greenery to capture the simple joy of it. ‘Oh Nature’, reads its caption, ‘How Sublime and Delightful is Your Power.’

City Art Centre, Edinburgh until Sat 6 Mar

Ian Hamilton Finlay

  • 3 stars

Including two recently acquired pieces of sculpture and prints from the city's collection.

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