More than 200 art professionals including the artists Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce, and Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, have signed an open letter calling for Inverleith House in Edinburgh, one of Scotland’s leading galleries, to re-open after its closure last month.
The gallery, the birthplace of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in 1960, was shut as part of a cost-cutting exercise by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), which runs the historic venue.
The signatories, which also include the Turner Prize winner Richard Wright, Sheena Wagstaff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the actor Ewan McGregor, say that they are “shocked” by the move.
“Closing the doors of this cultural asset with no plans for the future of the building is unthinkable and leaves us all diminished,” they write, adding: “[The director of exhibitions] Paul Nesbitt has nurtured Scottish artists at key moments in their careers and brought the work of ground breaking international artists to the United Kingdom.”
Trustees must debate the closure at a RBGE board meeting next month and work with the government funding agency Creative Scotland to secure the long-term future of Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery, the signatories say. Creative Scotland has awarded around £1.5m to Inverleith House’s exhibition programme since 1994.
In a statement, RBGE officials say: “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.”
Removing the “inevitable financial risks attached to running a high-profile gallery” frees up resources for scientific and horticultural research, they add. RBGE’s total grant-in-aid from the Scottish government for 2014-15 was £11.5m.
Meanwhile, a new contemporary art gallery is due to open in Edinburgh at the end of 2017 based in the historic Old Observatory on the city’s Calton Hill. The new space, which will be run by the non-profit organisation Collective, will include exhibition spaces and a restaurant.
Collective has secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the City of Edinburgh Council, Creative Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage for the £4m redevelopment of the Old Observatory, which was built in the early 19th century.
The restoration project includes the conservation of the observatory’s astronomical instruments and the creation of a new 53 sq. m gallery which will be home to Collective’s Satellites programme for emerging artists and curators.
The Old Observatory complex houses the City Dome gallery, another space run by Collective which opened in 2014; the venue has hosted shows dedicated to international artists such as London-based Beatrice Gibson and the artists collective Slavs and Tatars.