Ten Decades (3 stars)

Ten Decades

City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until Sat 19 Jan


Like a weighty history text, this commemorative retrospective, celebrating the centenary of Edinburgh College of Art, is exhausting. While seepage thankfully dapples its linear appearance, the exhibition remains effectively chronological, and is at times poorly displayed. Yet, while it appears at first stale, some interesting juxtapositions arise.

‘The Obsession, (Whence do we come? What are we? Whither do we go?)’, a painting by John Bellany, dominates this retrospective. Only Alan Davie’s abstract painting, ‘Serpent’s Breath’ and Paolozzi’s post-Hiroshima sculpture, ‘The Face’, challenge it for attention. These works become entangled by their relationship to the concept of myth-making, whether it be Bellany’s exploration of the religious symbol, Paolozzi’s interest in processes of cultural mediation, or Davie’s Jungian belief in a collective unconscious.

Yet, this interest is foreshadowed by earlier landscape paintings, which fail to voyage entirely beyond representation. The paintings exhibited cling to a sense of place, and an interest in history is quickly established. On the final floor, sculptural works stage obsolete machinery, metals found on a beach and allusions to Scottish fiction. While a concern for a sense of place is perpetuated, an interest in myth gives way to an interest in the clash of man and machine. The structured concepts of ‘History’ and ‘Myth’ have appeared to disseminate.

While painting is undoubtedly presented as the father of this college, with sculpture cast in the role of meddling offspring, it is the illumination of shared thematics which works to solidify a characteristic ECA continuum. This surely signals a success, for the motivation behind such a show can only be imaginative retrospection.

Ten Decades

  • 3 stars

Exhibition celebrating the centenary of Edinburgh College of Art featuring artists who taught and studied there.

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