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Inverleith House to Close as a Contemporary Art Gallery

It has been confirmed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh that Inverleith House, contained within its grounds, will no longer be used as a contemporary artspace. This comes after thirty years as a gallery, in which, under the curatorship of Paul Nesbitt, Inverleith House became a pioneering venue that showed early work by many Scottish artists alongside a bold international programme which has consistently sat alongside a parallel programme of botanical-based work.

Inverleith House has also presented more exhibitions by Turner Prize winners and nominees than any other gallery in the UK apart from the Tate Gallery in London. The gallery's current exhibition, I still believe in miracles... closes this weekend on October 23rd, after which the building's future is uncertain.

In a statement released on October 18th, RBGE said that 'After considerable consideration the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) has accepted that, in the interests of prioritising its core mission To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future, it must be pragmatic about the overall diversity of its wider commitments.

'As part of this, Inverleith House will no longer be dedicated to the display of contemporary art, and RBGE is looking at options for the alternative use of the building. RBGE will continue to use both the overall setting of the Garden and other existing indoor spaces to engage our visitors with art in the Garden environment. No member of staff will lose their job in the adjustment. The intention is very much that we intend to retain our reputation as an art venue across the board, be it for botanical art, illustration, performance, photography, sculpture and contemporary art.'

The statement went on to say that 'Through this change the organisation will remove the various inevitable financial risks attached to running a high-profile gallery. It will also free-up resources to concentrate more fully on its scientific and horticultural research and conservation work and provide greater scope to encourage public engagement with the environment.'

RBGE's decision comes two years after Inverleith House was unsuccessful in its bid for three year regular funding from Scotland's national arts funding body, Creative Scotland. Along with its predecessor, the Scottish Arts Council, Creative Scotland has supported Inverleith House's exhibition programme with £1.5m of public funding between 1994 and 2016. This includes an annual sum of approximately £80,000 of Flexible and Open Project funding for exhibitions, plus a capital award of £148,453 towards the cost of up-grading the provision of visitor facilities at the Inverleith House Gallery made in 2003.

Built in 1774 as the family home of Sir James Rocheid, Inverleith House was a part of the Inverleith estate sold to become the Royal Botanic Garden around 1820. In 1877, the House and its surrounding land was gifted to the Crown for the due purpose of extending the activities of the Royal Botanic Garden and for the enjoyment of the public. After restoration work following a fire, the building became the official residence of the RBG's Regius Keeper.

From 1960, Inverleith House became the inaugural home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and in 1970 was given category B listed status by Historic Scotland. It opened in its current guise as an exhibition space managed by RBGE in 1986, with Nesbitt appointed curator.

It was arguably Nesbitt's vision that put Inverleith House on the map as an artspace, as he opened the House and its unique light up to a series of exhibitions by major artists that the two tranches of National Lottery funding received to upgrade the building, first in 1990, then in 2003, would arguably not have been forthcoming.

Artists who have made solo exhibitions for Inverleith who have won or who were nominated for the Turner Prize include Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright, Callum Innes, Jim Lambie, Cathy Wilkes, Karla Black and Mark Leckey. In 2012, Luke Fowler was nominated for the Turner for his show at Inverleith House. Other Scottish artists of note who have shown at Inverleith House include include Lucy McKenzie and Ciara Phillips. The list of artists showing work in I still believe in miracles...., reads like a Who's Who? of internationally renowned contemporary Scottish artists. The exhibition also features botanical drawings, plant models, and teaching diagrams from the garden’s archive and the Linnean society in London.

Other botanical-based works seen at Inverleith House include John Hutton Balfour’s Botanical Teaching Diagrams in 2003,The Dapuri Drawings in 2002, Stella Ross-Craig's Drawings of British Plants in 2001 and Rungiah and Givindoo's South Indian Botanical Drawings.

Edinburgh-based artist Alec Finlay, whose work has frequently been seen in outdoor environments, and whose father, Ian Hamilton Finlay, currently has work on display in I still believe in miracles... stated that 'It will be a matter of concern to the entire art community and audiences alike that the distinguished thirty year tradition of exhibiting art in what is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful venues in the UK is under question. The ability of the curator, Paul Nesbitt, to select artists suited to the graceful proportions of the building and the wonderful light has gone hand in hand with his ability to work with peers exhibiting botanical art. While RBGE is not responsible for provision in a way that conventional art galleries are, the tradition it has established is a precious reality.'

In response to RBGE's announcement, a Creative Scotland spokesperson said 'We are very disappointed that the Board of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (RBGE) have taken the decision to cease operating Inverleith House as a dedicated contemporary art gallery. Over thirty years, under the stewardship of Paul Nesbitt, Inverleith House has built an international reputation as a place where contemporary art is curated and presented to the highest standards and in a truly unique setting. The importance of the gallery, alongside the work of Paul and his team, to contemporary visual art and artists in Scotland cannot be understated and its loss will be profoundly felt.
'
We understand the financial pressures that RBGE are under, like other publicly funded organisations. However, we would have hoped that the value that Inverleith House brings to the gardens, to the public, and to Scotland as a space for art and creativity could have been better recognised and result in a different decision. We look forward to hearing more about the plans for the wider exhibition programme in the Gardens. This decision by the RBGE Board precedes the publication of our Visual Arts Sector Review which, while highlighting the significant successes and strengths of visual art in Scotland, also underlines the challenges the sector faces and the barriers that prevent it from achieving its full potential.'


The List, October 19th 2016


ends

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