Magazine article The Spectator

Scottish Dynamism

Magazine article The Spectator

Scottish Dynamism

Article excerpt

It takes dynamic leadership and a favourable political climate to transform a small, long-established art institution into an international force, yet this has been accomplished by Sir Timothy Clifford and his able team at the National Gallery of Scotland. The £30 million Playfair Project, with the Weston Link between the neo-classical temples on the Mound, meant that the Royal Scottish Academy building could be incorporated, adding world-class exhibition space and educational facilities. This has to be the director-general's crowning achievement; he retires early in 2006 after some 20 years at the helm, leaving the two partner galleries to continue their development. Meanwhile, Dr Gordon Rintoul at the National Museums of Scotland has an ambitious plan to modernise the much-loved Royal Museum, which adjoins the new Museum of Scotland, their combined collections resembling those of a mini V & A with a high natural-history content.

As heirs to the Scottish Enlightenment, the people of Edinburgh enjoy their elegant small capital unspoilt by wars or mass tourism. With a population of under 500,000 to support their heritage, they rely on cultural excellence to attract outside visitors, the Edinburgh Festival period being critical. Since coming into office in 1999, the Scottish Executive has shown its appreciation with capital grants, including £7.7 million for the freehold of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and £2.5 million to add to the £11.6 million raised to retain Titian's 'Venus Anadyomene', previously on loan with other masterpieces from the Sutherland Collection.

The National Galleries will share an acquisition grant of an annual £1.2 million, ring-fenced, for the next three years, and, while Clifford is no doubt looking forward to playing his final winning card, this highlights the SNGMA's dilemma over the exorbitant cost and size of modern works. It is highly rated by collectors, and bequests and clever buying have won it recognition for Dada and Surrealist art shown in the Dean Gallery, while the dealer Anthony d'Offay has recently lent selections from his exceptional collection of late 20th-century art. The Scottish Executive has no power to provide the tax breaks that encourage philanthropic giving, but ideally this collection, which includes works by Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Ed Reschka and Andy Warhol, poorly represented in Tate Modern, would be located in a new building which will give this gallery international status. Meanwhile, outside and unmissable is landscape sculptor Charles Jencks's rhythmic 'Landform', costing £380,000, which won the Gallery the £100,000 Gulbenkian Museum Prize for 2004.

Scottish art, historic and modern, is well represented in all three National Galleries and there is a welcome £14 million plan, subject to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to open up the top-lit rooms of the handsome Scottish National Portrait Gallery and restore the interior to its Victorian glory.

There is good news, too, from the Museums of Scotland, where the Festival exhibition will be centred on 'Nicholas and Alexandra' at the personal behest of President Putin. Blank walls at the entrance to the new museum building, with its pseudo-baronial tower, encourage people to gravitate to the Royal Museum, drawn by a buzz from families having tea by the fishpond in this delightful Crystal Palace-like structure. Under a seven-year £45.6 million project dependent on £18 million from the HLF, themed galleries and displays will be updated. The first, with a £600,000 ReDiscover grant from the Wolfson Foundation, will provide exhibits which focus on innovation in science and industry ('Dolly the Sheep' qualifies). …

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