The Sculpture Show – Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Anthony Hill, Medardo Rosso, Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, Elisabeth Frink, Reg Butler, Eduardo Paolozzi, Ron Mueck, Duane Hanson, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, Sarah Lucas, Max Ernst, Nancy Grossman, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Peter Fischli, David Weiss, David Shrigley, Karla Black, Donald Judd, Charles Ray, Sol Lewitt, John McCracken … and breathe!

The Sculpture Show @ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

A Girl,Ron Mueck, 2006

These are only a few of the names that are on display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s new show, aptly named The Sculpture Show. It is tempting to suggest that the exhibition overloads us with to much of a good thing – but then again, it often seems like a necessary trend to provide for the impatient, short-attention spanned, museum consumer of today. The show covers a myriad of sculptural themes: Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Minimalism and Conceptual Sculpture – again to name but a few.

Notable works on show include; Jacob Epstein’s Consummatum Est (1936-37) – a giant marble Christ lying on its back that resembles a giant sarcophagus; Ernst Barlach’s Beggar Woman (1919) –  a moving work of a shrouded woman with hands out stretched, the artists response to a post First World War Germany.

The show contains some real blockbuster works like Man Ray’s iron and nails assemblage Cadeau (1921) and Marcel Duchamp’s erotic sculptures Female Fig Leaf  and Wedge of Chastity. From early modernist sculpture the show moves (arguably a little to rapidly) into contemporary sculpture – the main event being by Ron Mueck’s monstrously large, ultra-realistic sculpture A Girl (2006) a representation of a new born baby, complete with blood, umbilical cord and post birth wetness, giving us the ‘miracle of birth’ with no illusions.

The Sculpture Show @ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh


Female Fig Leaf, Marcel Duchamp,1950

Choice can be a good thing, but I think the gallery’s attempt to tell the story of modern sculpture by giving us a little taste of it all at points seems to become an educational hindrance. I firmly believe that institutions like the Scottish National Gallery have a responsibility to educate the public, but I feel a show like this wavers dangerously close to becoming an attempt to ‘tick all the boxes’. What does it teach us about the history of art? Walking through room upon room packed full of work, it starts to resemble an art historical tribute to the Argos catalogue, an extensive view of what you could have, but never quite breaking through the surface and giving you the quality you desire.

A possible rebuttal to this argument would be that in showing a mini history of modern sculpture it becomes more accessible to a wider audience and less esoteric. Although I find this argument demeaning, part of the beauty of art is the ideas behind it and the more you know about art the more you get from it.

The Sculpture Show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art could be split into numerous smaller exhibitions that would be more informative and more manageable. Or alternatively if you have the time go to see this exhibition five times at least then maybe you might be able to get a hold on this elephantine show.

-Oliver O’Keeffe

The Sculpture Show runs at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from 17th December 2011 – 24th June 2012.