At the far northwestern fringe of the New Town, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was Britain’s first collection devoted solely to twentieth-century painting and sculpture, and now covers two grand Neoclassical buildings on either side of Belford Road. The extensive wooded grounds serve as a sculpture park, featuring works by Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and, most strikingly, Charles Jencks, whose Landform, a swirling mix of ponds and grassy mounds, dominates the area in front of the gallery.
The gallery on the western side of Belford Road, Modern One, divides its display spaces between temporary exhibitions and selections from the gallery’s own holdings; the latter are arranged thematically, but are almost constantly moved around. The collection starts with early twentieth-century Post-Impressionists, then moves through the Fauvists, German Expressionism, Cubism and Pop Art, with works by Lichtenstein and Warhol establishing a connection with the extensive holdings of Eduardo Paolozzi’s work in the Modern Two. There’s a strong section on living British artists, from Gilbert & George to Britart stars, while modern Scottish art ranges from the Colourists to the distinctive styles of contemporary Scots including John Bellany, a portraitist of striking originality, and the poet-artist-gardener Ian Hamilton Finlay.
Modern Two, also known as the Dean Gallery, was refurbished to make room for the huge collection of work of Edinburgh-born sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, described by some as the father of Pop Art. There’s an awesome introduction to Paolozzi’s work in the form of the huge Vulcan, a half-man, half-machine that squeezes into the Great Hall immediately opposite the main entrance – view it both from ground level and the head-height balcony to appreciate the sheer scale of the piece. In the rooms to the right of the main entrance Paolozzi’s London studio has been expertly re-created, right down to the clutter of half-finished casts, toys and empty pots of glue.
The ground floor also holds a world-renowned collection of Dada and Surrealist art; Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Man Ray are all represented. Look out also for Dali’s The Signal of Anguish and Magritte’s Magic Mirror along with work by Miró and Giacometti – all hung on crowded walls with an assortment of artefacts and ethnic souvenirs. Elsewhere, look out for 2009 Turner Prize winner Richard Wright’s major wall-painting The Stairwell Project, his most complex and ambitious work to date in Britain.