Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Edinburgh Art Expedition

Off to Edinburgh to see exhibitions by Ron Meuck and Robert Mapplethorpe. I arrive at Dublin Airport with a tragic hangover and in a mood of quiet desperation. Ryanair delay the flight by 2 hours to allow me further time to dwell on my misery.

Finally arrive and we take a bus into the city centre - enjoying the substantial architecture of this impressive city. We're staying at the Radisson Hotel on the Royal Mile. We climb piss-soaked steps through Advocate's Close to reach the hotel.

It's a glorious day but it's raining, raining in my heart. Try a few beers in the trendy hotel bar and watch the Ryder Cup for a while - mood lifts a little. Then it's off to dinner, weaving our way through the standing army of on-street alcoholics. We have selected an upmarket and slightly stuffy French restaurant called Cafe St. Honore. It's passable but the wine is too expensive and the clientele uninteresting - stolid Scottish burghers.

Up and about next moring for the Ron Mueck show in the Nationa Gallery of Scotland - followed by a trip across town to a Robert Mapplethorpe show. Mueck is a puppet maker who has raised his craft to the level of art by using two simple devices. Firstly he dramatically alters the scale of his subjects - making them either gigantic or miniature. Secondly, they are all portrayed as profoundly unhappy or disturbed - the human condition don't you know. It makes for a diverting encounter but it's hardly Titian.

Mapplethoprpe's work is notorious because of his obsession with naked black men and the trappings of SM. While this show contains some of these pieces, its main focus are his portraits and these are surprisingly good. There are also a number of very moving self-portraits as he neared the end of his riotous life. The two pieces that stood out for me were a wonderful image of Louise Bourgeois with a phallus-shaped sculpture under her arm smiling mischievously; and a portrait of De Kooning shortly before he died - looking like an amiable old farmer.

Mapplethorpe's bad boy sthick was a bit wearying, but as a living cause celebre he had fame and thus he had access. He used this access to photograph the main movers in the New York art scene of his time. These portraits may turn out to be his real legacy.