Launched in March 2017, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s NOW exhibition programme was designed to represent artists associated with Scotland. Within this third iteration of the programme, we see the work of Turner Prize nominee Christine Borland, Glasgow-based Sara Barker and the renowned work of Jenny Saville amongst other artists.
Although previous NOW exhibitions hosted prominent and thought-provoking contemporary art, the current show represents the most harmonic curatorial approach so far. Within the current exhibition, curatorial themes emerge and take the form of the body, performance, process and materials. Like its previous sister shows, NOW is multi-disciplinary, with painting, sculpture, installation and film displayed throughout the gallery. Saville’s work dominates both the show and the space. The selection of her artworks spans twenty-six years, starting with her early works following her graduation from Glasgow School of Art in 1992. Saville is one of many known as the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group of artists who first began exhibiting together in London during 1988. Saville has always and continues to work with the body. Drawing on forensic and medical textbooks, plastic surgery, graffiti and various other sources, Saville’s large-scale oil paintings dwarf and consume their viewers. Navigating through Modern One, standing and gazing at the mostly female bodies she depicts, Saville forces the viewer to question their relationships not only to her work, but to their own bodies. Her works are visceral and incredibly emotive; her limited colour palettes balanced through the texture she conjures through her paint and her employment of charcoal in later works.
Within Positive Pattern, Christine Borland similarly encourages viewers to question their perception of their own and other bodies through her investigations into organ donations. Borland often collaborates with scientists and specialists to create her work, particularly as she incorporates cadaver and post-mortem investigations into her practice. Like Saville, Borland is part of the YBA circle. The work exhibited within the NOW exhibition was commissioned by the Institute of Transplantation and like much of Borland’s work, is a beautiful representation of the fusion of art and science. Produced in foam, five sculptures depicting the interior of Barbara Hepworth’s iconic sculptures are present. Through viewing the interiors of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture, Borland encourages viewers to contemplate the interior of self. Sculpture holds the potential for bodily navigation and this is also evident in the work of Sara Barker, whose material language is an interlocution of painting and sculpture. Through the displacement of her materials, Barker calls into question what it means for objects to exist either as paintings or sculptures – or both. Her colourful depictions protrude from the wall and invite the viewer to playfully circumnavigate her curation of materials.
Robin Rhode similarly utilises colour and space as a platform for questioning. Working primarily in Johannesburg given his South African routes, Rhode utilises performance and the body to question notions of politics and works in a site-specific manner in an area rife with gang violence. The works included in NOW demonstrate both Rhodes’ understanding of colour theory and geometry, as they depict figures dressed in black circulating geometric graffiti. The works are both playful, given Rhodes collaboration and engagement with the youth in the local area, yet simultaneously serious as they represent the prevalent violence in South Africa. Alongside this sits the work of Markus Schinwald, an Austrian artist whose film Orient is being shown for the first time in Scotland. Two screens occupy the room and simultaneously display the same film on loop, yet slightly out of sync with one another and demonstrating no clear beginning or end. The film captures five actors in various states and gestures, accompanied by a soundtrack and spoken word. The film is obscure, beautiful and poignant, with an almost pastel-based colour palette for both the costumes and surroundings, invoking a sense of vague serenity. Spoken word, presence and performance are also present in A hoarding of greenery, a flow of redemption, a work by Edinburgh-based artist Catherine Street. Within this work, Street employs a single channel video, text, collage and performance to explore the contrasts between thinking and sensing.
The work of each artist stands for itself within the show given the various material and conceptual approaches. However, through the alignment of themes present throughout various representations of the body, employment of performance practices and the manipulation of both language and visual material, it is evident that the third NOW exhibition is by far the strongest.