Maternity: Images of Motherhood (3 stars)

Maternity: Images of Motherhood

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until Sun 22 Jun


This exhibition takes us down the well-trodden path of ‘maternity in art’ and, for the most part, succeeds in eliciting ideas beyond the usual platitudes. While some of the views of motherhood are predictable and even clichéd (consider William Strang’s etching of an impoverished mother and children in relation to Dorothea Lange’s famous FSA photograph ‘Migrant Mother’), many of the contemporary pieces, particularly those by women, add nuance to the exhibition’s theme and content. Works by Christine Borland, Kerry Stewart and Moyna Flannigan are particularly challenging and affecting, and combat a rose-tinted outlook.

While the quality of the artworks featured is invariably high, the exhibition’s interpretation deflates the potential impact of some of the artworks. The leaflet and label text is rather dictatorial in tone, and tends to close down rather than open up the range of ideas relating to the concept of maternity. There is a heavy-handed emphasis upon placing a Western Christian interpretation upon many of the works (sometimes quite rightly, in the case of Botticelli, Domenichino and Robert Sargent Austin), which seems too narrow for some of the more modern pieces, such as Eduardo Paolozzi’s brilliant collage ‘Maternity’. As many visitors spend more time reading gallery labels than looking at the art, it might be preferable to tone down the text and allow the viewers to draw their own conclusions from the works on show.

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