With so much crammed into Scotlands capital for the month of August, it is easy to avoid or at least forget some elements of the festival. The Fringe takes prominence around the city, with the Edinburgh International Festival held at some key venues, and then the Book Festival is confined to Charlotte Square and the extended area on George Street. The Edinburgh Art Festival can somewhat get lost amongst the noise but if you take a step back to remove yourself from the noise for at least a day, it’s worth the time. A little more reticent than the rest when it comes to flyering and making a song and dance about their shows, the timidity of the festival is refreshing during Edinburghs festival month.
Founded in 2004, Edinburgh Art Festival is the platform for the visual arts, linking the capital’s leading galleries, museums and artist-run spaces in a city-wide celebration of the very best in visual art. Each year, the Festival features renowned international and UK artists alongside the best emerging talent, major survey exhibitions of historic figures, and a special programme of newly commissioned artworks that respond to public and historic sites in the city. The vast majority of the festival is free to attend, with a few exhibitions requesting a one-off ticket fee.
Sadly with so many gallery spaces across Edinburgh, it is practically impossible to venture to them all within my day confinement at the Art Festival. However, focusing on three key and central galleries, allows me to explore the festival with a tourist’s eye. First up was the acclaimed Bridget Riley exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland.
Bridget Riley (b.1931) creates compelling abstract paintings, which explore the fundamental nature of perception. With a style so unique, her work stands out. Influenced originally by George Seurat, he early work reflected his dots, but with no direct correlation. The exhibition, however, hones in on Riley’s exploration of the act of painting, depth and vision.
This comprehensive exhibition is the first museum survey of Riley’s work to be held in the UK for 16 years, and certainly the first of its kind in Scotland. Spanning over seventy years of work, it follows her changes in practice, with eight rooms dedicated to the work of her only, her studies, her curves, the iconic black-and-white works of the 1960s, her dabble with vibrant colour, wall paintings and recent works. It’s a sheer delight to be moved by the experimentations of her perception work as well as the hypnotic black and white work. Do pay a visit whilst you can, it closes on the 22nd September.
Then off to the Dovecot Studios for the much-talked-about Grayson Perry exhibition, Julie Cope’s Grand Tour. A grandiose and vibrant exhibition of tapestries and a selection of artefacts from A House for Essex, an installation designed by Perry with FAT Architecture to evoke a wayside pilgrimage chapel, which – instead of a patron saint – is dedicated to the life of Julie Cope, a typical Essex woman.
Fetishist and Turner Prize winner, Perry, is much celebrated for his work and this exihibition is no exception as it offers a rich breadth of the tapestry work, with a style that is all too familiar and endearingly adored. And now it’s off to the Stills: Centre for Photography, for the Cindy Sherman photography exhibition. This was sadly sparse, however, accessible and free to the public to explore.
Throughout her career, Sherman has worked with photography to picture herself in a range of guises and personas. Drawing upon images from art history, film, TV, magazines and the internet, her iconic work is hugely influential for her explorations into the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation. The work that considers The Press, The Director, The Jealous Husband etc, almost has a tongue-in-cheek poke at society and the identifying categories.
However, aside from this and the 16mm film, Doll Clothes, (1975) and a selection of works from Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), there is little else to convey and add a sense of style to the work of Sherman. In fact, I overheard another exhibition attendee ask if there was more of her work elsewhere. Less of an overview of Sherman’s work, it felt more like a wee taster of her photography. However, the taster did whet my appetite for more of her work, should another gallery space opt to host such an exhibition.
In itself, this is nought more than a wee taster of the Art Festival with much going on with Late Night walks and also at venues such as Jupiter Artland, the National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. But it was serene to step out of the Festival and into an inspiring place, with a degree of timidity.