Issue 211
Winter 2019/2020


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Nov 19, 2019

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Miracle on Schoolhill

Aberdeen Art Gallery reborn

LIFE WITHOUT ART… How long can you go without it? It's been a while, that the citizens of Aberdeen have been without their Art Gallery – more than four and a half years in fact, and it's cost them a fair bit too – something like £35 million.

There have been some tragic losses in the process too: the architect, Gareth Hoskins, the name behind Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland as well as the National Gallery and the World Museum in Vienna, did not make it through to see the completion of the project, dying tragically of a heart attack in 2016.

So it was with some degree of expectation and trepidation that one wintry November afternoon soon after it opened your correspondent set foot in the new AAG in the heart of Aberdeen for the first time.

The first thing to hit you is exactly the same Tracey Emin neon Heart to greet you on arrival as it did before. For You, signed with an X, is back on display in the Sculpture Court. The work was acquired in 2009.

So I immediately thought, all very much the same as before, but the moment you step into the first room, the change is spectacular, awe inspiring. Every room beckons you to stay longer, and it's not just the improved accessibility – which it claims is one of its finest calling cards – it's the tiny details, like daylight lighting everywhere.

The clever touches of high-tech roof lights on the top floors are designed to replicate natural lighting conditions and adjust to seasonal changes. The re-development has reduced all artificial lighting to zero UV, which helps preserve the collections for future generations. And now with the right micro climate control, conditions are ideally suited to housing outstanding works loaned from around the world.

The mass of new work is truly astounding – now over one thousand works find space for display, whereas before the figure was a third of that. Amongst welcome newcomers to Schoohill are names such as Francis Bacon, Rossetti, Monet, Guthrie, Lavery, Jim Lambie, Peter Howson, Henry Raeburn, Joan Eardley, Samuel Peploe, Rachel McLean, Bill Gibb and James Cromar Watt, and Paolozzi.

There is also a fine art library, housing more than 15,000 books, all of which can be read and perused in the museum's own dedicated library space. Not only that, but even the Cowdray Hall seems a more beautiful music space than before.

Add in a couple of café s, one right next to the spacious terrace overlooking the skylines of Aberdeen, and the city can now join a metropolitan elite of art gallery offerings.

Indeed, some visitors your reporter talked to think the result superior to what more than twice as much investment produced in Dundee.

Judy Addison, a 70-year-old former librarian who has been a member of the V and A for many years, and travelled to London just to see the Dior show recently, enthused about the new Aberdeen Art Gallery:

"So much better than the V and A in Dundee. This is my second visit and I will be coming back again later this week – you need at least an afternoon to see everything" she said.

Another visitor, Highland Dance Teacher, Isobel McMillan who is featured in the superb Martin Parr photography exhibition on the top floor, believes it's, to quote her: "A magical place – I love it – I love the traditional stuff, I don't like the abstract so much – but then again, art is for everyone."

There is no question that the new gallery is on trend too – there is even a picture room full of props for dressing up, so the selfie generation can properly record their visits.

In a room full of 18th century portraits and those by Joan Eardley, Rossetti, Francis Bacon and David Mach's match head, for example, there is a 'portrait pod' where you can don ruffs and hats and other historic accessories, and frame yourself in a mirror.

Now the gallery has so much more – of everything – it's time to plan your visit and see for yourself just how comfortably Aberdeen Art Gallery now sits alongside the renowned art galleries and museums of the world. Bilbao?

Where that then?

TESSA WILLIAMS


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