An upcoming summer exhibition at Inverleith House means the much-loved gallery is back at the centre of Edinburgh's art scene after a period of uncertainty towards its future as an art space
Last year it looked like the much-loved gallery at Inverleith House, part of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, was to permanently close to the public. The building’s custodians were encouraged to rethink their position when public uproar and a letter from 230 leading cultural figures – including artists like Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Jeremy Deller and Hollywood stars like Ewan McGregor and Val Kilmer – protested the closure.
The final decision on what this rethink will look like in terms of the cultural programme at Inverleith House won’t be known until the end of June, but we do know the building will be back to doing what it does best during the Edinburgh Art Festival.
Taking place at both Inverleith House and the Front Range Glasshouses, group exhibition Plant Scenery of the World brings together newly commissioned and existing work by Scottish, UK and European artists alongside rare and unseen archival material from the Garden’s own collection and botanical drawings commissioned by RBGE.
“Plant Scenery of the World reflects on these buildings for plants critically examining their past, current and future use from the 18th century to the present day,” says the press release. “The exhibition also seeks to explore our enduring fascination with tropical plants and changing attitudes towards collection, exploration, study and display through archival material and new work by contemporary artists.”
The exhibition includes newly commissioned works by Laura Aldridge, Charlie Billingham, Oliver Osborne and Bobby Niven. Continuing her longstanding engagement with sculpture as an immersive, sensorily driven experience, Aldridge's piece is a new nature printed floor using exotic plant material grown in the Edinburgh Glasshouses. Billingham’s new work is described as “an energetic and elegant room installation”, which will take the form of new wall prints and painting installations taking inspiration from Enlightenment and Regency era social satirists.
Niven, meanwhile, is planning a series of hand carved anthropomorphic sculptures to animate the gallery and glasshouses, and Osborne brings together a selection of emotive and ambivalent rubber plant paintings from 2012 to the present day in a new room installation.
In addition to these commissions, Plant Scenery of the World will also include the UK’s first screening of Ben Rivers’ latest film Urth.
Tying the exhibition together will be artworks from the RBGE archives, including previously unseen watercolour paintings by the artist-botanist R.K. Greville (1794-1866), from which the exhibition takes its name, and a newly acquired series of large-scale watercolours by botanical artists Işık Güner, Jacqui Pestell and Sharon Tingey. The latter watercolours are based on studies of the Amorphophallus titanum, the world’s largest flower, which flowered in Edinburgh for the first time in 2015.
“The exhibition will evoke the theatrical, awe-inspiring, utopian and naturalistic display of plants under glass,” reads the press release, which goes on to explain that the presentation “takes inspiration from the varied climatic zones of the Glasshouses, creating different ‘temperatures’ and offering an interconnected series of ‘micro-climates’ from room to room.”
Pleasingly, the exhibition seems to offer an approach to integrating contemporary artists with RBGE’s collection, which might spell a way forward for Inverleith House as one of Edinburgh’s vital art spaces.
Preview 28 Jul, 6-8pm