Edinburgh Art Festival features dozens of events from leading international and UK artists

Tacita Dean: Woman with a Red Hat / credit: Ruth Clark

Major retrospectives of Rembrandt and Nolde are alongside work from emerging and established artists from Tacita Dean to Bill Viola

The Edinburgh Art Festival is in full swing, and whether you’re a visual art fan who’s already planning your itinerary or you just feel like taking a break from the tsunami of live performance, there are a lot of ways to see something a little quieter and more silent in a gallery space this month.

Having said that, Tacita Dean’s Woman with a Red Hat (Fruitmarket Gallery) is notable for, among other things, its swearing. Dean was one of the Young British Artists and has been consistently interested in film and portraiture: her work Event for a Stage, which forms part of the show, features actor Stephen Dillane, and according to Dean’s own account, hers and Dillane’s collaboration was not without its ‘misunderstandings’.

At Edinburgh Printmakers, Indian artist Ravi Agarwal has his first solo UK show Nàdar / Prakriti, which is inspired by a research residency undertaken by the artist in the Scottish Highlands. Agarwal is interested in the pressures and challenges posed to nature in Scotland, a nation whose landscape looks an awful lot less unformed by human intervention than it actually is.

At the National Gallery of Scotland, Rembrandt: Britain’s Discovery of the Master continues to shine light on the 400-year history of how Britain has received the work of one of the most brilliantly unrepresentative of masters of oil paint. If you’re visiting Edinburgh, don’t put off seeing this in the hope that it’ll travel to where you live; this is your only chance to see these works in this configuration.

Modern Two is hosting Emil Nolde: Colour is Life, a look at the output of the great German Expressionist whose work manages to be both morbid and exuberant. One show bridging past and present is Raqib Shaw’s Reinventing the Old Masters, which presents the work of this most literate and referential of painters alongside two paintings which have inspired him: Joseph Noel Paton’s The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania and Lucas Cranach’s An Allegory of Melancholy.

The Travelling Gallery is one of the great institutions of Scottish art and the City Art Centre is hosting a retrospective, Travelling Gallery at 40, which looks back over four decades of bringing art to the people. Ruth Ewan’s Sympathetic Magick is a collaboration between the artist and magician Ian Saville, with magic tricks being performed in various places around the city. At St Cuthbert’s Church, Bill Viola’s mesmerising video work Three Women is a must-see.

The Platform series offers emerging artists a chance to be seen by a wide audience, and this year the City Art Centre is showing work by four very different younger artists. Rae-Yen Song’s work uses her own identity as a Chinese Scot to try and say something about the wider society and its relationship to the outsider. Annie Crabtree’s recent work explores the loss of bodily autonomy through illness, and the recovery of it through, among other means, swimming. Isobel Lutz-Smith works in film, experimenting with narrative cut-up techniques. Renèe Helèna Browne, from Donegal but based in Glasgow, makes sound-based work concerned with narratives relating to the female voice.

There are numerous other exhibitions as part of the EAF, as well as artist talks; walks; a listening lounge at Rhubaba Gallery curated by Andrea Zarza; Art Late events with music from The Ninth Wave and Jared Celosse; Art Early events for kids and their carers; Mud Oven Afternoons at Johnston Terrace Festival Garden at which you can make your own edible sculptures; and unique performances created by Ross Birrell and Ali Moraly. If you feel like getting out of the city, and why wouldn’t you, Jupiter Artland has organised a free bus service on Thursdays so that you can wander the gardens in peace and check out Joana Vasconcelos’ Gateway.

Edinburgh Art Festival runs at various venues in Edinburgh until Sun 26 Aug. Many shows extend beyond the end of the festival.

Ravi Agarwal