GENERATION: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland

Scotland and Contemporary Art


The GENERATION exhibitions featured artists whose careers have grown from Scotland during that period, a time that saw dramatic changes in our cultural lives and unprecedented interest in and acclaim for our artists. Whether they were Scottish by birth, education or one of the many artists who came to study and chosen to remain, they helped to create the vibrant, buoyant and internationally recognised contemporary art scene that exists in Scotland today.

The inbound flow of talent to Scotland was one of the defining characteristics of this period, compared to previous times where artists would move away in order to seek a career. A number of factors made it possible for artists to live and work outside of the traditional, established centres such as Paris, Berlin and New York. These included cheap air travel and developments in communication technology, which allowed artists to live and work in one place while forming part of a larger, international network.

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting: Charcoal Grey / Yellow Oxide / Asphalt, 1999
© The Artist

The art which emerged from Scotland during this period is characterised by diversity, rather than by a particular style or dominant trend. For example,  a broad spectrum of artistic styles is present in painting; from the figurative work of Steven Campbell to the strikingly abstract, 'exposed' painting practised by Callum Innes, along with the complex in situ wall paintings of Richard Wright.

Similarly, the field of sculpture ranges from the crafted abstraction of Claire Barclay to the more expressive, autobiographical work of Cathy Wilkes. Some artists, such as Karla Black, can be seen to work in both painting and sculpture, using traditional and unconventional materials in new ways.

A major influence on the development of contemporary art in Scotland was the establishment of the Glasgow School of Arts' School of Sculpture and Environmental Art; where students learned to create art that explored ideas rather than a single traditional medium. They were encouraged to create these works out in the wider world rather than the closed space of the art school. Several of the graduates from this course went on achieve huge success including Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce, who both went on to win the Turner Prize in 2009 and 2011. Other graduates of the course who were represented in GENERATION included Nathan Coley, Jim Lambie, Christine Borland and Lucy Skaer.

Rachel Maclean, Feed Me, 2015
© Rachel Maclean 2015

There was also a significant growth in the range of artists using video for their art, an area where many artists who practise in Scotland have achieved international recognition: from Douglas Gordon's hugely influential 24 Hour Psycho of 1993, through to artists like Luke Fowler and Duncan Campbell who have used documentary filming in their work. More recently, the work of Rachel Maclean has embraced recent technology such as green screen and computer generated imagery to construct fantasy narratives to explore issues of identity, social life and politics, drawing on existing sources from television and the Internet.  

GENERATION was inspired by the energy and vision of the artists who have lived and worked in Scotland over the last twenty-five years. They have contributed to Scotland's international reputation as a distinguished centre for contemporary art and fostered an infrastructure which has enabled contemporary art to flourish.

Over a hundred artists took part in GENERATION exhibitions in 2014, showcasing their work to audiences across Scotland.


Steven Cambell, On Form and Fiction, 1990
© Estate of Steven Campbell
Installation View during GENERATION at the Scottish National Gallery, 2014

Exhibitions at the National Galleries of Scotland

The Scottish National Gallery featured work by seven key artists, including the restaging of Steven Campbell's immersive and highly influential work On Form and Fiction, Martin Boyce's Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain the Sea and Hours and Christine Borland's L'Homme Double. These were shown alongside works by David Shrigley, Callum Innes and Rosalind Nashabishi. Story Of A Sensible Length, a new commission by Karla Black was created especially for the exhibition, her response to the gallery's sculpture hall.

The entire Modern One gallery was devoted to displaying GENERATION. The works shown ranged from room-sized installations by Ross Sinclair, Graham Fagen, Torsten Lauschmann and Simon Starling to painting and sculpture by Charles Avery, Kate Davis, Jonathan Monk, Lucy McKenzie, Victoria Morton and Alison Watt. New commissions were also created for GENERATION by Claire Barclay, Toby Paterson, Ciara Philips and Alex Dordoy.

The use of moving image as a significant aspect of visual art was also celebrated in GENERATION, with Douglas Gordon’s celebrated 24 Hour Psycho, Henry Coombes’ The Bedfords and Smith/Stewarts Breathing Space all exhibited. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery also played host to Luke Fowler's film, The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott, exhibited in Scotland for the first time as part of GENERATION.

Through a diverse array of art experiences, from the intimate to the collective, GENERATION offered a unique opportunity across Scotland to see art that is innovative, thought-provoking, imaginative, at times beautiful, at others challenging but always inspiring. 

Smith/Stewart, Breathing Space
© Smith/Stewart (Stephanie Smith, Edward Stewart)
Claire Barclay, Trappings, 2014
© Claire Barclay


At the heart of GENERATION was an aim to get the very best contemporary art to reach people across the country, to ensure that anyone living in or visiting Scotland in 2014 would be able to enjoy a unique and inspiring programme of exhibitions and events. In partnership with over 60 galleries, exhibition spaces and venues GENERATION brought an ambitious and extensive programme of exhibitions and events to people across the length and breadth of Scotland.