Institutional history of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art : tensions, paradoxes and compromises
Galastro, Anne Bernadette
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This study provides the first comprehensive account of the institutional history of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA) from the earliest calls for its foundation at the start of the twentieth century to the recent series of exhibitions marking its fiftieth anniversary in 2010. The SNGMA is both a unique case‐study and a useful illustrative example of the specific category of modern art museum: the account of its history sets the institution within its wider cultural context and explores the inevitable complexities facing a public gallery devoted to modern art. The study examines how the institution has balanced the need to represent a full historical survey of modern art with the desire to engage with the contemporary, and how it has addressed the question of collecting and displaying the work of Scottish artists alongside international art. By providing a close documentary analysis of the evolution of the institution, drawn from within the Gallery’s own archives, combined with extended reflections on the central dilemmas it has had to face, the study constitutes an original contribution to museum scholarship. Various methodologies are employed to assess the diverse factors that have affected the institution’s development. The narrative confirms the close correlation between the architectural frame and the public perception of the institution. It traces the evolution of the acquisitions policy and notes how this shaped the permanent collection, allowing a shift from an aspiration to universal coverage of the international trends of 20th century art to a more targeted specialisation in certain areas, primarily Dada and Surrealism. It charts the attitudes towards temporary exhibitions and the display of the permanent collection, and examines these in the light of current exhibition theory and practice. The analysis concludes that the SNGMA has been largely successful at achieving the aims and ambitions it originally defined for itself, although its role is constantly evolving in response to changes in the broader context of art museums.