Arts review of 2019: Susan Mansfield and Duncan Macmillan on the year in visual art

Katie Paterson's NOW show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was one of thie highilghts of the year PIC: Ian RutherfordKatie Paterson's NOW show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was one of thie highilghts of the year PIC: Ian Rutherford
Katie Paterson's NOW show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was one of thie highilghts of the year PIC: Ian Rutherford
Our art critics revisit their favourite shows from across Scotland in 2019

Phil Collins: Ceremony, Cooper Gallery, Dundee and Jeremy Deller: Everybody in the Place – An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992, Modern Institute, Glasgow: 2019 got off to a strong start with two films with a political bent. Phil Collins’ Ceremony tells the story of how, for the Manchester Festival in 2017, the artist brought a decommissioned statue of Engels from a village in the Ukraine and installed it in the city (where Engels wrote his seminal text, The Condition of the Working Class in England). Jeremy Deller’s film about the history of house music, how the rave movement grew and was systematically crushed, was similarly compelling, delivered as a lesson to A level politics students in contemporary London. The power of both films lies in the way the past becomes present, not only history, but deeply relevant to how we live now. SM

The German Revolution: Expressionist Prints, Hunterian, Glasgow: The big surprise of the year was the Hunterian’s collection of German Expressionist prints, shown together in March, supplemented with a few loans. German printmakers were really powerful and original before Hitler shut them down, but in the post-war world German art was always going to have an image problem. Ignoring this, Andrew McLaren Young began collecting German prints for the Hunterian back in the 1960s. This exhibition included the work of Kathe Kollwitz, Max Beckmann, Emile Nolde, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein and the Austrian Egon Schiele. Together they made a stunning show and in the whole year Kathe Kollwitz’s self portrait was one of the single most memorable images. DM

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Martin Boyce: An Inn for Phantoms of the Outside and In, Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute: In the summer, Boyce became the latest in a long line of contemporary artists invited to make work at Mount Stuart on Bute, responding to any aspect of the estate or its history. Immediately excited by the memory of a tennis court built in the grounds in the 1970s and long since dismantled, he set about building his own ghostly court. Using his distinctive sculptural language of modernist forms and materials, he created a work which is both conceptually rigorous and deeply imaginative. One half suspects some ghostly players will be out to play a few sets in the quiet winter season. SM

Nick Cave: Until, Tramway, Glasgow: 2019 has seen various international artists take on the immense space of Tramway 2. We have climbed into pods to watch a drama about modern architecture by Cecile B Evans, poked our heads through sails made of stitched-together T-shirts by Pia Camil, and been dazzled by Nick Cave’s overload of colour and kitsch in Until. A glittering pathway through gyrating wind spinners lead to a “crystal cloudscape” of chandeliers and ornaments, and finally to the world above it, where stuffed animals and vintage gramophones rubbed shoulders with evidence of casual racism. It’s political art done as a joyful, carnivalesque explosion of life. SM

Aberdeen Art Gallery reopening: In November, the Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened after nearly four years and a £34.6 million refurbishment. Not only have they added all mod cons, and a rooftop gallery for visiting shows (currently housing work by Martin Parr), there is now room to display three times as much of the permanent collection as before. And what a collection it is, beginning with solid 19th century foundations and added to regularly ever since, with the best of 20th century and 21st century art. SM

Among the Polar Ice, The McManus, Dundee, until 8 March 2020: The Arctic and the Antarctic were brought together in a memorable show at the McManus in Dundee in September. This exhibition, which runs until March next year, is composed principally of the work of James Morrison and Frances Walker, though there are other ancillary items too. Morrison travelled to the Arctic to paint. Three canvasses in the show were each painted in a single day, and a fourth, Berg, Otto Fiord, was painted later in the studio. All four capture the wide horizon and the luminous whites and vivid blues of the icy landscape. Walker went the other way, all the way to Antarctica, and this year she gave six of the pictures that resulted to the McManus. A seventh picture was borrowed to complete the set for the show. All on a grand scale, they make a thrilling group: dazzling blue of water, white of snow and ice and black of rocks and overall huge spaces. Truly paintings to remember. DM

Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting, City Art Centre, Edinburgh: Victoria Crowe was undoubtedly one of the stars of 2019. The year began with an exhibition of her portraits in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and she also had a wonderful show at the Scottish Gallery, but a true highlight of the year was her retrospective at Edinburgh City Art Centre. It followed her career from her student days up to the present. It has been an artistic journey of astonishing fertility of invention, both of imagery and of technique. In her early years living below the Pentland Hills she painted their wintry landscapes and most memorably the life of her neighbour, the shepherd Jenny Armstrong. Her horizons then broadened in Italy, and especially Venice. Her palette warmed and she moved into an imagery of poetic association where Venice’s unique waterscape, or the paintings of Bellini, trees and flowers, and other things too, drift into and intercut each other. More recently trees in evening light have produced a series of magically poetic paintings. But for me the single image of the year was her painting Venetian Mirror with Remembered Landscape, a northern landscape reflected in the gently weathered glass of a Venetian mirror. DM

Garry Fabian Miller, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh: Garry Fabian Miller is a photographer who doesn’t use a camera. His medium, a printing paper called Cibachrome, has unique richness of colour and sharpness of image. He exposes it to coloured light transmitted through liquid or some other medium. Nothing intervenes. No camera. No lens. Exposures are slow and the image is unique. The effect is stunning. It is as though colour has been distilled to its purest form. One picture, There is no shadow, stands out in my memory. It is a disk of purest yellow set against a warm white field. The outer edge of the disk is sharp, the inner edge slightly feathered. The effect is a ring of pure sunlight hanging in
space. DM

NOW: Katie Paterson, Darren Almond, Shona Macnaughton, Lucy Raven, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until 31 May: It’s hard to believe it’s nearly three years since National Galleries of Scotland launched the first of six NOW exhibitions, group shows of contemporary art, each circling around a central artist. It’s been a superb series, never predictable, always introducing us to new names as well as celebrating the achievements of those we know well. This final NOW show presents a large body of work by Katie Paterson in Scotland for the first time. Working with ideas on a cosmic scale – the lifespan of the solar system, the distance to the moon – Paterson finds poetic and quirky ways of fitting them inside our heads, and leaves us with the sense we’ve been witness to something magical. SM

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Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh, until 15 March: Leonardo will always be the very definition of genius. He could see things others could hardly imagine. Not only could he only see them, he could also draw them with an elegance and minute precision that is without parallel. This is the 500th anniversary of his death. The Royal Collection holds the largest single body of his drawings anywhere, more than 500 of them, and so with admirable public spirit has marked the anniversary with a series of exhibitions round the country. This year-long event concludes with 80 drawings exhibited in the Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood. They cover every aspect of his astonishingly diverse curiosity and invention: analysis of human and animal anatomy, botany, flowing water, guns and machines, but also exquisite drawings for major works like the Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks. DM

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