The Jim Lambie Exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh


Jim Lambie is a dynamic contemporary artist who makes his art by transforming the roles of relatively mundane objects like clothes hangers, household paint and record players. He specializes in inhabiting spaces, transforming their purpose and bringing a sense of magic to them that was never there before. By subverting the conventional functions of everyday objects, he brings beauty to everything he touches. All the works relate to performance and action as they capture a sense of energy in the modern world. With every creation he asks, "how can I empty and fill space at the same time?"


Bringing together twenty years of sculptural development, the exhibition captures the diversity of Lambie’s work. As part of The Edinburgh festival and Generation: 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland, his retrospective has invited critical acclaim and brought thousands of visitors through the doors of The Fruitmarket gallery. The retrospective spans from 1996 to the present day in a timeline of his development as a conceptual artist.

 Lambie began life as a musician in the band The Boy Hairdressers before studying Environmental Art at Glasgow School of Art and beginning his career as a sculptor. Not only has he received two nominations for the Turner prize, but he also featured at the Venice Biennale in 2003 as a Scottish representative. With exhibitions across the world from Melbourne to Tokyo and New York to Oxford, there is not doubt that he is one of Scotland’s most successful contemporary artists. Having had the pleasure of seeing his work in New York’s MoMa museum and also in London’s Tate Modern it is a joy to have him back in Edinburgh for the summer.



The first room is a dreamscape of colourful, glossy ladders named Shaved Ice 2012/2014. The rungs are inhabited by mirrors, which force you to contemplate your own metaphoric journey of climbing the ladder of success. What is particularly interesting is how the structures also have the power to disorientate you and alter your sense of direction as you attempt to navigate the space. The question is whether they act as obstacles or are they actually illuminating the possibility of a new, hallucinatory space?

As soon as you ascend The Fruitmarket’s main stairs you are immersed in Lambie’s most famous work Zobop 1999 as you traverse the polychromatic floor piece made of coloured vinyl tape. This psychedelic floor installation with its saturated colours is reminiscent of the modernist aesthetic of the American minimalist Sol LeWitt and the English painter Bridget Riley. It follows the existing architecture of The Fruitmarket gallery as it contours and converges with the aesthetic faults like electric outlets and accidental projections. Lambie named the work after a piece of graffiti he passed one day, because he immediately took to the word’s rhythmic, musical sound. There is no doubt that the creative titles he gives his work are intrinsic to its meaning, because he sees language as an alternative material.



As we see in Roadie (1999), Lambie doesn’t only reference, but rather physically builds his work from elements of music culture. This glitter drenched record player doubles up as a colourful clothing rack as it waits to be played. It is no surprise that the aesthetic appeal of punk, pop, and psychedelic music is visible across the spectrum of his work as a result of his long-term career as a DJ.

In Plaza (1999/2014) Lambie violently slashes shopping bags full of paint and lets the colour splash onto the white walls. Juxtaposing the polychromatic floor, this makes for a visual spectacle, which is symptomatic of the vibrancy of his work. As with many other pieces he is distorting the original purposes of objects thus giving them a value as stimulants of aesthetic pleasure rather than practicality. In a way they are like live performances as they provide an escape into a psychological space with dazzling effects on the audience.


The exhibition runs from 27 June – 19 October (Free) and is a wonderful opportunity to not only experience the whimsical world of Jim Lambie, but to have the opportunity to wander around their fabulous book shop, which boasts some of the quirkiest international art magazines. Before heading home, grab your coffee at Black Medicine, 2 Nicholson St. It's a wildly imaginative space, which captures the atmosphere of a medieval tavern crossed with the sort of establishment you’d find Harry Potter strolling into on Diagon Alley. The smoothies could be a little more creative, but the coffee is good and the ambience is unbeatable. 


Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of