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Hugh Buchanan – The Esterhazy Archive

Summerhall, Edinburgh
3 stars
The title of this new show of sixteen watercolours hung all too appropriately in Summerhall's wood-panelled Dean's Room may sound lifted from a 1960s Cold War spy caper, but its depictions of books and documents all bundled up with brown paper and string are even more intriguing. The Esterhazy family archive is stored in Forchenstein, south of Vienna in twenty-five vaulted rooms in the basement of an ancient fortress. Buchanan's excavation not only captures the meticulous intricacy of the endeavour, but, seems to tap in too to the whole notion of archiving as art so much in vogue right now. Yet, by observing it at first remove, as Buchanan does here, there's a gimlet-eyed objectivity to his studies as much as there is warmth.

While there are hints of Beauysian-styled detritus on show acknowledged in the title of one of the larger works hung on the walls beside Summerhall's staircase, framing the archives in impressionistic paintings like this makes them less austere and self-consciously mysterious. The light and shade in each painting bathes the bundles in a romantic glow that gives each package a mythological air to savour. 

The List, July 2013


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