The gallery office currently looks like something of a command centre. Giant lists of artists, ‘nominators’ and works occupy all of our large notice boards. To give you a sense of how eclectic this all is, the list of artists starts with: Yoko Ono, Karla Black, Giorgio Morandi, Alan Reid, Hamish Fulton, Anthony Schrag and continues at great length. The ‘nominators’ are equally diverse and at a glance includes John Leighton, the Director of the National Galleries of Scotland; Rhubaba, an artist run space on Leith Walk, Edinburgh; and other artists such as Rosemarie Trockel, Bruce McLean and Andrew Grassie.
These lists are the products of an investigation into the contemporary sense and meaning of beauty in art conducted by Talbot Rice Gallery. Originating from the desire to connect with David Hume’s writings on Aesthetics, the project began in earnest with a letter:
In 2011 the University of Edinburgh celebrates the tercentenary of David Hume. In this context Talbot Rice Gallery puts beauty in the frame with Beholder, an exhibition exploring taste and subjectivity in the visual arts. The premise is simple: we are inviting artists, individuals and organisations across Scotland to nominate a work of art they consider to be beautiful. The works will be displayed in the gallery space, setting up dynamic visual dialogues to form a contemporary portrait of beauty.
Surveying the complete list of nominated works, it is difficult to see anything that represents beauty in a purely classical sense; there are no ‘perfectly’ proportioned bodies or mythical scenes, at least not in an uncomplicated way. The assembled works reflect both careful consideration and personal preference, in some cases commitments to complex ideas and in other cases a direct affinity with an image or theme.
Whatever the final impression or interpretation of this exhibition might be, there is a lot at stake. Talbot Rice Gallery is aiming not only to showcase the tastes and ideas of people who have an influence over what we see in art galleries and how we see it, across Scotland and beyond, but is asking everyone to get involved. The letter of invitation that we used to kick-start the project opened with a famous quote from David Hume,
“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” – David Hume
If beauty proves to have no fixed or stable form, its integrity may be based upon the fact that it brings people together to openly discuss values and ideas. You don’t have to be trained in Art History or be a cosmetic surgeon to have an idea of what beauty might be. Images of the exhibition on Facebook will provide an open invitation for people to share their views and express their own tastes. A series of events throughout the exhibition will encourage active participation and debate about these ideas by our audiences.
One thing is certain, if there is some slackening here of the control usually held over an exhibition, if there is some chance to influence discussion and debate, then it requires you to seize upon it. Talbot Rice Gallery encourages you to get involved, you are, after all, the Beholder.