Aberdeen Art Gallery reopens following a multi-million redevelopment
Words and images by Stuart Forster
Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened to the public on 2 November 2019 following a £36.4 million redevelopment. It’s now possible to move between the free-to-visit art gallery, the adjacent Remembrance Hall and the Cowdray Hall performing arts venue. The redesign increases the number of galleries within the Victorian building to 19 from 11 and almost triples the number of items displayed from the permanent collection.
The Alexander Marshall McKenzie-designed art gallery first opened its doors to the public in 1885 and closed for redevelopment in 2015. Hoskins Architects, which has offices in Glasgow and Berlin, is the company behind the redesign of the Neoclassical building. Studioarc — the Edinburgh-based exhibition specialists whose previous projects include the Rosslyn Chapel Visitor Centre, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Stirling Castle Palace Project — designed the galleries, their signage and a digital strategy.
“From the outset the ambition was to create a world class visitor attraction and we are proud to have delivered that for the city and region. The redeveloped Aberdeen Art Gallery will serve generations of residents and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from at home and abroad each year, providing a fitting home for the world-renowned collections we hold,” commented councillor Jenny Laing, Co-Leader of Aberdeen City Council. The collection spans seven centuries and encompasses contemporary artworks by the likes of Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin and Ken Currie. Work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Claude Monet and Peter Brueghel the Younger count among the 1,080 items displayed within the revamped gallery. One of the star exhibits is Francis Bacon’s Pope I — Study After Pope Innocent X by Velasquez, which has toured galleries around the world while Aberdeen Art Gallery underwent redevelopment.
On entering Aberdeen Art Gallery visitors look towards the Sculpture Court, an atrium-like gallery surrounded by granite pillars with a polished black and white marble floor. Natural light floods into the three-storey building via a vast oval skylight. To the left of the Sculpture Court the gallery, named Collecting Art, which explains how the idea for Aberdeen Art Gallery grew after John Forbes White and other locally based collectors collaborated to hold a public exhibition of their fine art collections in 1873. The redevelopment facilitates the display of decorative arts, including ceramics, textiles and jewellery.
The new second floor features 1,100 copper panels weighing a total of 24,000 kilograms. That floor has a west-facing rooftop terrace overlooking Rosemount Viaduct and another with views over Belmont Street and Schoolhill. Works by local artists are displayed by the café while the three BP Galleries host temporary exhibitions. The Think of Scotland and newly commissioned Aberdeen at Leisure photography exhibitions, by Martin Parr, will be shown until 23 February 2020.
The serene Remembrance Hall was built in the wake of World War One as a place for contemplation and reflection. It now features Remembrance-themed digital projections onto the floor, subtle lighting and Forget-Them-Not, a new commission by Gordon Burnett.
On Thursdays the Cowdray Hall, a wood-panelled recital venue with a pipe organ and grand piano, will host a series of free events, for which donations are welcomed, known as the Lunchbreak Concerts. The hall’s full programme of events is — along with details about talks, tours and exhibitions — published on the Aberdeen Art Gallery [SF1] [SF2] website (www.aagm.co.uk).