19 November 2011 – 18 February 2012
Part of Edinburgh University’s Hume Tercentenary

The gallery office currently looks like something of a command centre. Giant lists of artists, ‘nominators’ and works occupy all of our large notice boards. To give you a sense of how eclectic this all is, the list of artists starts with: Yoko Ono, Karla Black, Giorgio Morandi, Alan Reid, Hamish Fulton, Anthony Schrag and continues at great length. The ‘nominators’ are equally diverse and at a glance includes John Leighton, the Director of the National Galleries of Scotland; Rhubaba, an artist run space on Leith Walk, Edinburgh; and other artists such as Rosemarie Trockel, Bruce McLean and Andrew Grassie.

These lists are the products of an investigation into the contemporary sense and meaning of beauty in art conducted by Talbot Rice Gallery. Originating from the desire to connect with David Hume’s writings on Aesthetics, the project began in earnest with a letter:

In 2011 the University of Edinburgh celebrates the tercentenary of David Hume. In this context Talbot Rice Gallery puts beauty in the frame with Beholder, an exhibition exploring taste and subjectivity in the visual arts. The premise is simple: we are inviting artists, individuals and organisations across Scotland to nominate a work of art they consider to be beautiful. The works will be displayed in the gallery space, setting up dynamic visual dialogues to form a contemporary portrait of beauty.

Surveying the complete list of nominated works, it is difficult to see anything that represents beauty in a purely classical sense; there are no ‘perfectly’ proportioned bodies or mythical scenes, at least not in an uncomplicated way. The assembled works reflect both careful consideration and personal preference, in some cases commitments to complex ideas and in other cases a direct affinity with an image or theme.

Whatever the final impression or interpretation of this exhibition might be, there is a lot at stake. Talbot Rice Gallery is aiming not only to showcase the tastes and ideas of people who have an influence over what we see in art galleries and how we see it, across Scotland and beyond, but is asking everyone to get involved. The letter of invitation that we used to kick-start the project opened with a famous quote from David Hume,

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” – David Hume

If beauty proves to have no fixed or stable form, its integrity may be based upon the fact that it brings people together to openly discuss values and ideas. You don’t have to be trained in Art History or be a cosmetic surgeon to have an idea of what beauty might be. Images of the exhibition on Facebook will provide an open invitation for people to share their views and express their own tastes. A series of events throughout the exhibition will encourage active participation and debate about these ideas by our audiences.

One thing is certain, if there is some slackening here of the control usually held over an exhibition, if there is some chance to influence discussion and debate, then it requires you to seize upon it. Talbot Rice Gallery encourages you to get involved, you are, after all, the Beholder.

Talbot Rice Gallery

19 November 2011 – 18 February 2012
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm Admission Free
Festive closure: 18 December 2011 – 3 January 2012
[email protected]
+44 (0)131 650 2210

The University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK

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The map below shows our position within the University of Edinburgh’s Old College building. Please follow signs for the gallery. Lift access is available to all visitors.

Map of Talbot Rice location


Roger Ackling, AES + F, Karla Black, Alfons Bytautas, Nathan Coley, Petra Cortright, Kate Davis, Claire Denis, Thea Djordjadze, Katy Dove, Hamish Fulton, Jade Gilbert, Iain Hetherington, General Idea, Callum Innes, Paul Keir, Andrew Kerr, Nahoko Kudo, Andy Law & Mil Stricevic, L.S. Lowry, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, Bruce McLean, James McIntosh Patrick, Giorgio Morandi, James Morrison, Sadie Murdoch, Isabel Nolan, Yoko Ono, Glen Onwin, Djordje Ozbolt, Francis Picabia, Alan Reid, Anthony Schrag, Santiago Sierra, Sir Basil Spence, Jo Spence, Edward Summerton, Margaret Tait, Walker & Walker, Michael White & George Wyllie.

Exhibition says oh yes to Ono’s work

James Clegg pictured with Yoko Ono's artwork

It may not look like much more than a postcard with a hole in the middle.

But the work by John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono is one of 50 pieces of artwork selected for a special exhibition depicting beauty.

Beholder is a collection that is being brought together under one roof at the Talbot Rice Gallery at Edinburgh University until February and features unique interpretations on what is considered beautiful.

The idea came from the gallery’s principal curator Pat Fisher, who wanted to do something to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of philosopher David Hume, who had very specific ideas about the perception of beauty.

Ms Fisher wrote to colleagues in galleries across Scotland inviting them to suggest their own ideas for pieces that would fit the bill, with the result being a vast range of items from across the world, including Ono’s A Hole To See The Sky Through, which was selected by Kate Gray of the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh.

Ms Fisher said: “At first I thought I would be the selector for the exhibition, but it quickly came to me that I just wanted to apply a bit more lateral thought and wanted it to be much broader than just my own views of what beauty is.

“It was a critical part of the project that I would accept everything because if I had made a second selection it would have changed the ethos of the project.

“I have been delighted by many of them. Some of them wouldn’t have been to my personal taste, but there is a feeling of quiet humility in some of the choices.”

The exhibition, which opens this Saturday, also features works by Turner Prize nominees Karla Black and Nathan Coley, painter LS Lowry, abstract artist Callum Innes, modernist architect Sir Basil Spence, visual artist George Wylie and painter Giorgio Morandi.

The items span 500 years, from a piece of lace from the 16th century to an oil painting painted in the gallery last week.

Ms Fisher said: “One of the most challenging things has been how to install it.

“One of my hopes is that it appeals to a very wide spectrum of visitors.

“I would almost hope to suggest that it might offer something for everyone.”

The Yoko Ono piece was sent to the gallery with the artist’s “love and kisses” from New York and she has also publicised the Beholder exhibition on her Twitter page.

Ms Fisher added: “Yoko Ono is one of the more unusual artists in the exhibition and she sent it to us with love and kisses

“The work is giving you an invitation to think about beauty as the piece of work itself is simple.

“It encourages us to use our imagination.”