For the first time in 15 years, Edinburgh will host the eighth edition of this five yearly snapshot of the diverse output of artists working in The UK: The British Art Show. This touring exhibition that began in Leeds in December and continues on to Norwich, then Southampton later this year, opened in three venues in Edinburgh on February 13th, including Inverleith House, a light-filled gallery laid out over two floors of a Georgian mansion house, at the heart of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The exhibition, which is free to visit, is composed of the work of artists selected by its two curators, Anna Colin and Lydia Yee, as having ‘made a significant contribution to art in this country over the past five years’. The curators define the theme of the exhibition as ‘the changing role of the object at a time of increasing convergence between the real and the virtual’.
Though works on film and highly conceptual pieces are present, there is an emphasis on painting, drawing and ‘made’ objects. The show, which includes 26 especially commissioned pieces of work, includes works, which are, by the curators’ definition, framed within a trend towards ‘how artists engage with the material world’. The digital is present; however there is also evidence of a number of artists making use of what could be deemed ‘craft’, including rug making and, most obviously, ceramics.
With so many artists of varying ages and backgrounds, all operating at different points in their careers, The British Art Show 8 offers more of a broad overview of the diversity of art produced in Britain over the past five years, rather than a tightly unified theme. As it is spread over three venues at different points in the city, it is best taken in over at least two days, and interspersed with other activities, such as a walk around The Botanic Gardens, enjoying Scotland in early spring.
Other venues include the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, housed in a grand building also in its own grounds. The gallery has access to The Water of Leith which provides a riverside walk, linking the building to The Royal Botanic Gardens via trendy Stockbridge, which provides a range of great restaurants and bars. There you will find works by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who had a stand-out show at The Serpentine Gallery in London last summer, and John Akomfrah, whose work Vertigo Sea captivated audiences at The Venice Biennale in 2015. The third venue is The Talbot Rice Gallery, beyond the city’s new and old towns, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Georgian university campus and next to the recently refurbished Museum of Scotland, with is brilliantly presented permanent collection of artifacts and objects of scientific interest.
There is much to distract you on a visit to Edinburgh (and much fun to be had once the galleries have closed for the day), however a visit to this highly textured city should not only be reserved for August, when it is crammed with visitors to The Edinburgh International Festival and its Fringe. With so much parkland integrated into this great city, along with coffee shops and big-ticket cultural events, such as The British Art Show 8, spring is a great time to visit this buzzing city and enjoy all that it has to offer. Edinburgh is easily navigable by foot, however it has an excellent bus system and a newly opened tram service and you do not have to go too far before finding somewhere to sit, have a coffee, and take in the views and the history.
The British Art Show 8 is at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, The Talbot Rice Gallery and Inverleith House, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until May 8th, 2016. The exhibition will continue to Norwich in June, and Southampton from October to January 2017.