The new, free Aberdeen Art Gallery Opening – Aberdeen’s new Art Gallery opens this year after a four year closure and refurbishment. So what can you expect?
As someone who spent many a school trip meandering around the gallery, the new project is a glorious mix of the wonderfully familiar and the brand new. The expansive Sculpture Gallery, with columns of proud granite, and a Tracey Emin piece in pride of place, hasn’t changed much. But why would it? Refurbishments are about improvements, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
But explore a little further and the focus of the gallery, the inclusion and the access has vastly improved – we’re talking lifts, two cafés, change facilities, modern interactive screens, quiet Mondays for those who need a low key visit. Add to that an entire extra floor, over 1000 pieces rather than 300, and lots of kid-friendly activities, and it’s a bit of a game changer. Aberdonians will see favourite old pieces such as the goose girl in ‘To Pastures New’ and The Tennis Party, but it all feels fresh and new.
So here’s a whistle stop tour. Gallery 2 focuses on schools and communities, currently housing projects from schools such as Northfield Academy.
The war memorial is respectful and streamlined, with a specially commissioned piece by Gordon Burnett featuring tiny forget-me-knot flowers, and the names of the fallen projected one by one on the wall. It’s beautifully simplistic and modern now, although I feel relatives of the deceased will still wish to linger on their father or grandfather’s name, so I hope they can still access the Book of Remembrance with ease.
In terms of children, wherever you visit, many artworks have ‘Art Explorer’ conversation starters cards posted next to them. Whilst these are aimed at families, they are admittedly helpful for all ages, and an excellent avenue to involve children if you’re a bit stuck for words around art (which I often am, especially with more abstract creations).
The Gallery focussing on the human body was notably vibrant, containing works by Gilbert & George and Alison Watt.
The most outstanding gallery in my humble, very personal opinion was the collection of Scottish photographs by Martin Parr. As well as a glorious portrayal of real and romantic Scotland, there was a specially commissioned collection entitled Aberdeen at Leisure – from boozy hen nights and Dons fans, to runners and Highland dancers, it was an Aberdeen I recognised. When you live in Scotland you experience it all – yes, you’ll see a misty glen with a Highland cow one day, but the next day you’re having a drink with pals or going for a jog in the city centre. Parr’s collections sum up the juxtaposition of all of these experiences, rather than portraying one (romantic) vision of Scotland. Few people living here experience one version of Scotland, even those on remote islands nip to the Co-op!
The legend of Balmoral has its own dedicated space, set in dark pink surroundings, contrasting with the airy galleries elsewhere, so expect lots of light and shade in terms of presentation. The Shoreline has a dedicated gallery, as does the female role in the Art of Empowerment. History, beauty, struggle – it’s all there.
To be fair, kids will probably come into their own in the Portrait Gallery and the Inspiration room. With a tiny door to climb through, fancy dress, photo booths, games, sketchpads, eye spy, landscape inspiration and quizzes, and magnetic masterpieces, I think these areas will be jam-packed with creative wee ones.
Overall I am impressed with the transformation, and I’m looking forward to seeing what programme of events is rolled out over the coming year. I attended a preview so, naturally, I expect the place to be mobbed for the first few months. If you don’t have tickets for the opening weekend perhaps wait a wee while, but make sure you see what you think for yourself. The beauty is the fact that Aberdeen Art Gallery is free, so it costs you nothing to experience it first hand. Enjoy.
From Monday 4 November the new opening hours will be:
Monday to Saturday
10am – 5pm
11am – 4pm