Head to Head at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a deliciously fun visit if, like me, you are interested in dress and textiles.  But on this particular visit I tore myself away from the brocades and tartans for a while, and wandered around the temporary sculpture exhibition in the contemporary gallery on the ground floor.

Head to Head showcases portrait sculpture from across the National Galleries of Scotland. A spectacular selection of sculpted heads and figures, from ancient to modern and executed in a wide range of media, are on display. The exhibition illustrates how sculptors continue to reference the illustrious tradition of the portrait bust but in various ways also seek to break free from it. Featuring a rich variety of work in terms of style and scale, the display will form a dramatic spectacle in the Contemporary Gallery. So says the blurb on the SNPG website.

Head to Head Exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Taken by Rachael.

I found the interpretation of the sculpture particularly interesting, the exhibits were split into four distinct groups; Portrait?, Material, Role Play and Breaking Out.  Each classification acting as a springboard for the visitor to further consider the object, and sculpture, in a different light.  Is this a portrait?  A true ‘likeness’?  Does that Matter?  And how does the material affect the sculptor and sculpture?  Why were they created?  What is the artist saying through them, and what do they say to you?  The display was also very visitor friendly, the heads and figures were for the most part out from behind glass display cases and most were also able to be viewed from all angles.

There were some really fabulous pieces on display, one of my favourites was Galina 3  by Gerald Laing.  This futuristic and pleasingly coloured representation of Laing’s wife, created by him in 1974, has a wonderfully modern sense of elegance to it.  I only wish someone would sculpt something so beautiful inspired by me, *sigh*.

Galina 3

The bust used in the marketing for this exhibition, Untitled, by Jonathan Owen, was another highlight.  As a fan of the traditional 19th century white marble bust (they make me think of Austen and romance and posturing properness), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Owen’s act of vandalism.  He removed sections from the figures head, which now resembles a star shaped cage, and which contains a mobile marble sphere, but maintained the rest of the sculpture.  The end result is a bit punk if you know what I mean?  To me the bust was now representative of a rebellion against age old British symbols of class, and even against the good ol’ patriarchy, transforming this stuffy chap into something refreshingly and rebelliously compelling.


The exhibition is on now until January 2016, so you have plenty of time to go and check it out, and all for free!

Click here for more information on the exhibition.


All views, are of course my very own.


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