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Ian Hamilton Finlay

City Art Centre, Edinburgh until March 6th
3 stars
There’s something slightly claustrophobic seeing Ian Hamilton Finlay’s
work indoors. As anyone who’s basked in the glories of the radical
polymath’s Little Sparta garden in Lanarkshire will be aware, Hamilton
Finlay was so at one with nature that a civic gallery space doesn’t
seem right somehow.

This first floor exhibition sets a small selection of works alongside
complimentary material by fellow travelers Paolozzi, George Wylie,
Nathan Coley and Kenny Hunter, with two recently acquired sculptures as
its apparent centerpiece. An entire wall is devoted to Martyn
Greenhalgh’s moodily serene photographs of Little Sparta itself.

As if confirming a life-long quest for somewhere purer, sailing boats
are to the fore among Hamilton Finlay’s classicist allusions. Of the
newly acquired works, ‘Two Temples: To Apollo His Music-His
Missiles-His Music’ consists of two biscuit-tin size slate drums. The
title piece is carved with the same wording as that of the Garden
Temple at Little Sparta, while its companion piece, ‘CN16’, features a
fishing boat. Together, the pair could be pillars for the grandest of
model villages.

Odd, then, that they’re tucked around the corner from the main
exhibition, leaving the actual focal point a bold text-based piece on
the far wall. If the words ‘REVOLUTION, VIRTUE, ELOQUENCE,
TRANSPARENCY’ sum up a lifetime’s philosophy, it’s left to a small work
depicting languid picnickers basking among the greenery to capture the
simple joy of it. ‘Oh Nature,’ reads its caption, ‘How Sublime and
Delightful is Your Power.’

The list, February 2011

ends

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