By Rory Reynolds
The Glaswegian shunned an invitation to open the institution’s new library after they criticised a work that they had commissioned him to make for not being “positive” enough.
Gordon – a world-renowned artist after winning the Turner prize in 1996 – said he had ironed out the details with the university, only to find that they had refused to pay for him to travel to the opening, or to stay in Edinburgh.
He had proposed to inscribe the words: “Every time you turn a page, it dies a little” in gold letters on the new library building.
But one of the panel members who was involved in the commission admitted that the institution hadn’t told the artist that the piece had to be positive when they assigned him the £20,000 budget.Gordon said he felt humiliated by the university, saying: “I will never again accept a public commission in my home country.
“I felt I was being treated like a 16-year-old apprentice and not a professional.
“When it turned out that not only did I have to pay for everything myself, but the artists were not even mentioned in the invitation, it all became too much.”
Gordon then wrote to the university, reportedly saying: “It has become impossible for me to work with the commissioning body.
“Many artists are treated disrespectfully by the institutions they are making commissions for.
“Most think they cannot afford to say no, but I can.”
Gordon is best known for his award-winning black and white film about star footballer Zinedine Zidane, which is currently owned by the National Gallery of Modern Art.
Professor Andrew Patrizio, part of the university’s advisory panel, and who described Gordon’s work as “poetic”, said that Gordon hadn’t been asked to take a positive approach by the university.
He said: “Several people felt that the wording was not celebratory enough for the opening of a library, even though the artist had not been briefed to create a ‘positive’ commission.
“Though one could read it negatively, it is important to stress that nobody had ever asked the artist for something celebratory.”
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “Art always stimulates debate and that is something that as a university we absolutely welcome.
“However, it would be entirely inappropriate for us to elaborate on the private discussions we have with individuals or organisations when we seek to commission work from them.”