Issue 196
Winter 2016

The Artwork Logo

Apr 25, 2017
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Editorial Comment

Artwork PO Box 3 Ellon AB41 ::

Scaling the Cliffs of Angus

NOW THAT the scaffolding has been removed from the exterior walls of the £ 80m V&A in Dundee, one can at last see how huge the building is. And although, when the pre-cast cladding is added to create the architect's inspiration – the cliffs of Angus – the visual appearance of the museum will be diminished, it will nevertheless remain hard to fill and maintain compared to all the other museums in the city.

To solve this problem, it will be home to a multitude of objects currently housed in London as well as, apparently, having a display devoted to Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Given that most of his work was in the west of Scotland, apart from that in Northampton and London, this seems a bit of a surprise. But perhaps the curators know that there is reputed to be a Mackintosh-designed fireplace in Brechin! (But they probably don't.)

The decision to commission an iconic building by Kengo Kuma, instead of (possibly) adapting a 19th century shipbuilding shed nearby (later converted for Borders, and now a Marks & Spencer food hall) was predicated on the belief that V&A in Dundee will attract visitors from all over Scotland as well as farther afield.

The same assumption was made about Dundee Contemporary Arts when it opened in 1999, but it has never quite fulfilled that promise. And, given this assumption, a number of new hotels have opened in Dundee, with one being currently built above Dundee's new railway station and, also close to the museum, the Harbour Master's House being in line for conversion into Apex's second hotel in the city. If the museum's promise is not fulfilled, there will be a surfeit of hotel beds in Dundee.

There is, in the provision of the museum and the new hotels, a gamble based on the belief that Dundee can become a new tourist hub, i.e. that instead of being a place that tourists come to visit, it will become a centre from which they will enjoy easy access to the golf courses and historic buildings of Fife, the glens of Angus etc, This will require an enormous change to the way Dundee is perceived today.

One thing, however, is certain: the enormous scale of both the new museum and station reflects the grandeur of creating a Classical city as conceived by James Thomson, the City Architect, when he built the Caird Hall and the City Chambers from 1914-23.

Once the new buildings are completed, and another added to replace the demolished hotel adjacent to the road bridge, Dundee will gain a centre with a clear identity. Perhaps that will draw the finance necessary to reconsider developments along the riverside which, with Tesco's shed and the new, visually mediocre block of flats, fails to make the most of the banks of the River Tay

Who's afraid of Summerhall?

ANYONE who has visited it – and near 700,000 did last year – will have marvelled at the sheer guts and vision that lie behind the promotion and success of Edinburgh's free-booting arts centre, Summerhall.

Summerhall, as our readers will know, came into being following the courageous – and inspired – purchase and re-development of the old 'Dick' Veterinary College beside the Meadows.

The driving force behind the Summerhall phenomenon is the artist/economist Robert McDowell, with the backing of a powerful family trust.

Given the fairly massive scale of the Summerhall venture one might think Mr McDowell had done his bit for the cultural life of not just Edinburgh, but Scotland.

Not a bit of it. When it became known that the nearby Sick Children's Hospital was to be put on the market by the NHS McDowell immediately saw the possibilities of working yet more artistic magic.

Not only would it be possible to save and re-adapt an historic building, McDowell saw the possibility of including a centre for children's art, a museum of the Edinburgh Festuval (70 this year) as well as a large number of artists' studios.

McDowell was in a position to make a substantial bid, and one with highly credible backing – his Summerhall venture showed that he could deliver on his promises.

An offer like this should surely be welcomed with open arms? The battered and bruised artistic and architectural reputation of the Cuty of Edinburgh could at a stroke be given a much needed lift.

Forget it. McDowell's bid has. apparently, not even got beyond the first hurdle.

It is legitmate to wonder why.

Has he caused too much of a stir by actually getting on and doing something? Do the powers that be fear such an independent free spirit? Much safer just to bash it all down and build humdrum houses?

It would be good to get some detailed answers to these questions.

Don't smile – and don't say cheese!

BESIDES this sheet you hold in your hands (now nearing its 35th year of unbroken publication) this modest venture also produces a number of other publications, amongst them a few railway books and guides

It was in the furtherance of this pursuit that we have been updating an old favourite – out of print for too many years – a guide to Scotland's Stations.

What seemed like a routine call on a deserted rural stop produced the bizarre reaction from an orange coated rail worker "No photography"

What? Is the Official Secrets Act involved? Are Scotrail/Abellio working on a top secret new passenger train which will arrive on time and have plenty of available seating?

No such luck. Just bureaucracy gone mad. So remember, if you plan to take a selfie on a Scotrail station you'd better hide your phone – or you could be deported – to Holland!

An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House
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