Great Exhibitions: Edinburgh Art Gallery Guide

Edinburgh is well served with art galleries year-round, and particularly in August when Edinburgh Art Festival arrives with a programme of exhibitions and commissions

Feature by Rosamund West | 11 Aug 2021
  • Collective City Observatory

Before you even get to the galleries, remnants of past Edinburgh Art Festival commissions can be found across the city centre. Martin Creed’s marble staircase links South Bridge and Market St, Graham Fagen’s vibrant neons illuminate the Calton Road underpass at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder, and the shifting colours of Calum Innes’s work light up the bridge behind Waverley.

In the Old Town, Fruitmarket (45 Market St) have recently reopened following an extensive refurbishment, extending their exhibitions and events space into the former nightclub next door. They launch the space with sculptures 2001-2021, a pastel-hued retrospective of Karla Black (until 24 Oct), whose playful experimentation and subversion of material tropes interacts perfectly with the airy gallery spaces.

Opposite, the multi-level City Art Centre (2 Market St) is hosting exhibitions of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Donald Smith and Charles H Mackie. Around the corner, Stills (23 Cockburn St) is the city’s centre for photography. They will present a series of work by Sekai Machache, The Divine Sky (until 18 Sep), which utilises allegory and performance to tell a complicated history.

Tapestry studio and craft hub Dovecot (10 Infirmary St) has a retrospective of one of the greatest unrecognised pop artists, Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop! (until 30 Aug) as well as annual jewellery survey show Dazzle. In Edinburgh University’s Old College, Talbot Rice Gallery present group show, The Normal (until 29 Aug), a vivid reflection of life in the pandemic. Working with EAF, they have commissioned a new sound installation by Emeka Ogboh, Song of the Union (until 29 Aug), a response to the ongoing theatre surrounding our departure from the EU which will be presented in the Burns Monument (1759 Regent Road).

A core part of the EAF programme is Platform (until 29 Aug), which showcases the work of four early-career artists. This year you will find work by Jessica Higgins, Danny Pagarani, Kirsty Russell and Isabella Widger in the Institut Français Ecosse (W Parliament Sq). In a new initiative for the Art Festival, Glasgow-based Tako Taal has been invited to collaborate as an Associate Artist, creating and commissioning work responding to the themes – including representation, resistance, civil rights – of Isaac Julien’s new work Lessons of the Hour.

In Fountainbridge, Edinburgh Printmakers (1 Dundee St) is a workshop and exhibition space. For August, they present work by celebrated Indian artist and researcher Sonia Mehra Chawla following a series of intensive residencies in Scotland.

Up Calton Hill, Collective resides in a former observatory with unparalleled views across the city. You can see a new site-specific textile commission by Christian Newby (until 29 Aug), plus a cross-media installation by Alison Scott (until 19 Sep), a graduate of their emergent artist-supporting Satellites programme, in the Hillside space.

On Queen St, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery presents Ruined (until 14 Nov), an exhibition of work developed by young Scots interacting with the nation’s history and works from the galleries’ collections. They will also host A Portrait Without Likeness (until 9 Jan 2022), a new series of paintings from Alison Watt made in response to the work of celebrated 18th century portrait artist Allan Ramsay.

In the New Town, in the converted Glasite Meeting House, Ingleby (33 Barony St) are showing Music of the Spheres, the first exhibition devoted to Frank Walter’s small circular ‘spool’ paintings (until 25 Sep). Nearby Dundas St is home to a number of more traditional commercial galleries. A highlight is The Scottish Gallery (16 Dundas St), which presents an extensive exhibition of the work of Joan Eardley (until 28 Aug), on the occasion of her centenary. Beyond the New Town, in the centre of the Botanics, Inverleith House shows work tying together its scientific surroundings with contemporary art. For summer 2021, former Turner nominee Christine Borland presents a multidisciplinary collection exploring the life cycle of flax, as part of the gallery's Climate House programme.

At the top of Leith Walk, Ltd Ink Corporation (77 Brunswick St) is an independent arts organisation that facilitates exhibitions and events in the Old Ambulance Depot. They’ve recently launched a bimonthly Sunday market too. In Newhaven, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (21 Hawthornvale) is a working studio system with an extensive exhibitions and education programme. This August, they present a co-commission of Irish artist Sean Lynch, Tak Tent O’Time Ere Time Be Tint, which casts a spotlight on Edinburgh’s public artworks and monuments.

The National Galleries of Scotland Modern One (75 Belford Rd) and Modern Two (73 Belford Rd) are set in grand former schools to the west of the city centre. In One, they present Isaac Julien’s major new ten-screen film work, Lessons of the Hour (until 31 Aug), a poetic meditation on the life of Frederick Douglass. Two is hosting Ray Harryhausen, Titan of Cinema (until 20 Feb 2022), a blockbuster show of the special effects master.

On the outskirts of the city, Jupiter Artland (Bonnington House, Wilkieston) has evolved into a fantastical art park, as their regular commissions from internationally-renowned visual artists add new layers of discovery each year. This year they have added a new cartoon animation work by Rachel Maclean to the permanent collection. For EAF, they present RESET by Turner co-winner Alberta Whittle (until 31 Oct), a new film work created at the height of lockdown with an array of multidisciplinary accomplices.