In August, something rather exciting arrived on South Street – a contemporary “white cube” art gallery with a distinctly international outlook. You won’t find any picture-postcard seascapes or derivative abstracts destined to be bought because they fit a colour scheme here. To get a sense of the project, The Saint spoke to curator Beth Junor, who is as committed to the conceptually interesting as she is to accessibility. Junor, a St Andrews alumnus, who studied Fine Art with Professor John Steer in the 1970s, credits her time here with giving her a highly developed “eye.”
“It taught me to look properly at the world, and at two dimensional representations of the world, and when you leave university with a skill like that it sustains you throughout your life.”
The sustaining power of art helped her through the often emotionally arduous life of a specialist speech and language therapist, working with autistic children, which is what Junor has done for 27 years. She is also a published poet and non-fiction writer, editor and translator, but running a gallery has been a life-long dream – “A childhood friend came to the opening and she said, oh I remember you speaking about this even when you were little… apparently I was saying I was going to have an art gallery!”
The Junor’s current show, Maps of the Imagination, features artists from across Scotland, England, and the rest of Europe. This balance of the local and international is important to her. It also allows her to “tune into the zeitgeist” of the contemporary art world as a curator – maps and mapping are popular themes at the moment, with current events leading many artists to meditate on borders, intersections, and migration. From the NSK State Pavilion and Passport at this year’s Venice Biennial, to Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project (2008–11), shown last year at MoMA in New York, these are issues that are only becoming more and more prominent in the collective artistic consciousness.
One amusingly tongue-in-cheek work currently showing at the Junor is Bulgarian artist Yanko Thiov’s Brexit Passport Map (2017), which lampoons the absurdities of nationalist nostalgia, whilst simultaneously presenting the consequences of that nostalgia as reaching inexorably and materially into the future, culminating in a reunified Ireland and an independent Scotland. Another work worth checking out is Mick Manning’s striking Red Dog Black Dog (2016), which plays with the interplay between sign and symbol – one of the most fascinating and “literary” aspects of maps as well as the relationships between time (history) and space (geography and cartography).
Not only is geography of increasing interest to artists, the “geography” of the art world is rapidly changing too. According to Beth, “in the last twelve years in London I witnessed this massive cultural shift in galleries and I want my gallery to be a part of that… It’s an exciting time for me to be opening.” Rising rents in “cultural capitals,” the prominence of international art fairs, and the globalism of the internet age mean that the monopoly of big cities on quality contemporary art galleries is being somewhat eroded, as is the emphasis on exclusivity – something Junor is determined not to encourage.
All this is of course excellent news for St Andrews, as it means we get The Junor, which can have its feet planted firmly in the local community without being provincial, and keep a finger on the global pulse of the contemporary art world without being inaccessible to the casual visitor.
“I want an open, inclusive, non-intimidating space for people to enter and experience something new,” Junor said. She also aims to provide as many points of entry to the artworks as possible, from poetry (by Lyn Moir and Tom Pow) to examples of decorative arts, such as fine jewellery by goldsmith Dominic Walmsley, which complement the theme, and give visitors as many points of connection to the artworks as possible.
As the evenings draw in, The Junor Gallery will be putting up its next show In the Long Evenings Colour and Light, which will feature photography and painting around theme of colour at night from a bevy of Scottish and International artists. They will also be hosting poetry readings and artist talks – all of which will no doubt serve as an excellent distraction from deadlines, marking, and revision this winter. In the meantime, however, Mapping the Imagination is on until 30 November, so if you’re in the mood for an art break but can’t quite find the time to make it to Dundas Street or the DCA, just pop along to South Street.