2023 Arts Preview: The Year Ahead in Visual Art

Scotsman art critics Susan Mansfield and Duncan Macmillan on the exhibitions to look out for in the New Year

The Accursed Share, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 17 March until 27 May With the cost of living crisis biting, Talbot Rice’s ambitious group show on the subject of debt feels like it’s taking on a very live issue. The nine international artists in The Accursed Share take a longer and deeper look at the subject, bringing to the fore the injustices which produce inequalities: land appropriation, colonialism, modern day slavery in the service of big business. Promising to “reclaim economics” from abstract theory, it also affirms art which engages with the social and political. The show includes Naming the Money’, by Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, in which the artist created hand-painted life-size figures of the anonymous black people included in 17th-century European paintings as symbols of wealth. – SM

Alberta Whittle: create dangerously, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1 April until 7 January 2024 Since her solo exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2019, Alberta Whittle’s star has risen and risen, and in 2022 she represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale. This will be her largest solo show to date, and will include her Venice work, Lagareh – The Last Born and her tapestry Entanglement is more than blood, as well as new and unseen paintings and sculpture. Whittle’s work over the last four years has stood out for its ability to address difficult issues – the legacy of slavery, police brutality in Scotland, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people of colour – in a spirit of generosity and compassion. A particular treat will be the chance to see Whittle’s paintings which she has rarely, if ever, exhibited. – SM

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Tartan, V&A Dundee, 1 April until 14 January 2024 For the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, Sir Walter Scott, adopted what had hitherto been exclusively the costume of the Highlands as the costume of the whole nation of Scotland. Since then tartan has had a mixed press, but it would be a shame if the ambiguity of that act of appropriation was to cloud our appreciation of this spectacular fabric and its true history. With that in mind, and to mark V&A Dundee's fifth anniversary, a show called simply Tartan will be one of the most exciting exhibitions of 2023. The first major exhibition on tartan in Scotland in 30 years, it will include 300 objects from museums, galleries and famous fashion houses around the world and will follow the story from the historic costume of the Highlands to tartan in the present day. It will not be exclusively about costume and fashion, however, but will include architecture, product design, film, performance and fine art. In the show, too, The People's Tartan will present tartan objects crowdsourced from members of the public and well-known personalities. – DM

Detail from Still Life, Kurashiki by Elizabeth Blackadder

Zineb Sedira, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 26 April until 6 August At the Venice Biennale in 2022, Zineb Sedira’s work for the French Pavillion was one of the most talked about shows, celebrating the Algerian film-making which flowered in the country post independence, and weaving her own history seamlessly into a collage of film clips. This major solo exhibition, developed by DCA and the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill-on-Sea, is her first in a UK public gallery for 12 years. Working across photography, installation and film, Sedira manages to be both whimsical and entirely serious. Drawing on her own cultural heritage (Franco-Algerian, based in London), she will focus on identity, migrant consciousness and the conditions of transnational trade, with the sea as a central motif. – SM

Where The Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65 – A Retrospective, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, 27 May until 1 October Peter Howson has been one of Scotland’s most successful and popular artists since he shot to fame in the 1980s as one of the New Glasgow Boys. However, in the last two decades, his work has only rarely been seen in public galleries. This major retrospective over four floors brings together important early work (the Glasgow hardmen, boxers and tramps with which he made his name) with paintings from his time as a war artist in Bosnia, and a significant body of recent work, much of it unseen in Scotland. It explores Howson’s religious painting, and his complex apocalyptic scenes influenced by Dante and Milton, as well as offering a chance to see the intricate mixed media works he made during lockdown. At 65, he is an artist at the height of his powers. – SM

Seher Shah, Glasgow Print Studio, 1 June until 29 July Seher Shah is a distinguished Pakistani-American artist and printmaker. Trained originally as an architect, as a printmaker she has worked with etching, photogravure and woodcuts. She also makes sculpture in cast iron. In her art she reflects on the perspectives and geometry of modern architecture in what she calls "architectural abstraction” and indeed often with near abstract results. Photography is the base for this kind of imagery and for this she works collaboratively with architectural photographer Randhir Singh. Among her work is a magnificent set of prints that reflect poetically on the great historical sculpture of the Indian sub-continent. As a leading printmaker with an international reputation, she has enjoyed a long-time collaborative exchange with Glasgow Print Studio and one of the principal events in the Print Studio’s 2023 calendar will be a major exhibition of her prints. This will include a new suite of etchings titled Ruined Scores, made in the intaglio printmaking studio under the guidance of master printmaker Stuart Duffin. The artist says of this series of prints that it speaks to a “hermetic language in between architectural abstraction and music notations, but communicates neither in its entirety.” – DM

Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Changing Perception, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, 28 July until 6 January 2024 One of the most eye-catching art books of 2022 was Katy Hessel’s The History of Art Without Men. Now, Dovecot Studios and the Fleming Collection have put together a fresh look at the history of Scottish art over the last 250 years using only women artists. Over 50 artists are featured, known names, such as Phoebe Anna Traquair and Bessie MacNicol, as well as ones we might not know, such as Scotland’s first professionally trained woman artist Catherine Read. The story comes right up to the present day with Joan Eardley, Elizabeth Blackadder, Alison Watt and Rachel Maclean, and includes a specially commissioned tapestry made at Dovecot designed by Scottish contemporary artist Sekai Machache.– SM

C is for Colonial Fantasy, by Alberta Whittle PIC: Alberta Whittle / National Galleries of Scotland

Elizabeth Blackadder & John Houston, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, from August, dates still TBC. Elizabeth Blackadder died in August 2021. She and her husband John Houston, who died in 2008, were central figures in the Scottish art in the second half of the 20th century. In August 2023 the RSA will celebrate their lives and careers in a major exhibition. Focusing on their travels and studio practices, it will include works from across the breadth of both artists’ careers, from early drawings and paintings to major work from their maturity. While in its timing this show will commemorate Blackadder exactly two years after death, it is fitting that they should be seen together. Their close relationship is certainly reflected in their art but as artists they were nevertheless quite distinct from each other. Fellow students at Edinburgh College of Art, where they were taught by William Gillies, they never lost faith in the idea that to be meaningful art must reflect on the world of experience. They were not, as a result, timidly old-fashioned however. Far from it. They both pursued with courage a dialogue with some of the most progressive ideas of the mid-20th century, with highly original results. – DM

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Scottish Landscape Awards, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, 4 November 2023 until 3 March 2024 The Scottish Portrait Award has been running successfully now for a number of years. Following its example and working with its organisers, in 2023 Edinburgh City Art Centre will launch a parallel Scottish Landscape Awards exhibition. It will be open to all comers and indeed to works in all media, but the organisers are hoping that it will not produce the contemporary equivalent of the 19th century artist’s stock in trade, Highland cows on misty heathery hills, but will range widely across the all the varied possibilities of the modern Scottish Landscape. The panel of judges who will decide who wins will be chaired by Barbara Rae and include David Mach, Ade Adesina, sister artists Jane and Louise Wilson, and Marian Leven. This exciting initiative is intended to become a biennial event, moving to Dumfries and Galloway in 2026, and to Aberdeen in 2028. – DM

Rembrandt to Rego: The Printmaker’s Art, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 2 December until 25 February 2024 Rembrandt to Rego: The Printmaker’s Art will close the National Gallery of Scotland’s 2023 programme. Drawing on the NGS’s own rich collection, it will range across the diverse types of prints that artists have made over the centuries including prints made by the traditional methods such as etching and engraving and by more modern ones used by artists in the present day. Printmaking began in the the 15th century at much the same time as the birth of the printed book. One of the first great printmakers was Albrecht Dürer and the works in the show will range from some of his marvelous images down to prints by our contemporaries like Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili. Other more recent artists represented will include major modern printmakers like Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Blackadder, Paula Rego and Bridget Riley. How the work of even these modern masters will look beside the truly great artists from the past like Rembrandt, William Blake, Francisco de Goya or Pablo Picasso, you will have to judge for yourself. The show will also include an introduction to the techniques, tools and materials that these artists employed. – DM

Tree of Life by Cian Dayrit PIC: Gianmarco Bresadola
Portrait of a Young Girl, after Cranach the Younger, by Pablo Picasso PIC: National Galleries of Scotland / The Henry and Sula Walton collection