When it comes to culture, Edinburgh's pretty much got it nailed. From its museums to its theatres, its attractions to its bars, few places do things as well as Edinburgh. And those with a penchant for all things arty are very well covered too. As well as being home to Scotland's National Gallery buildings (including the Portrait and Modern Art Galleries) and the famous Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh boasts a wide range of independent art galleries showcasing upcoming contemporary artists from home and abroad. The following are what we deem the best galleries Edinburgh has to offer. Chin strokes at the ready.
Edinburgh art galleries
As Edinburgh’s newest – and hippest – multi-arts venue, Summerhall has quickly evolved from its former life as the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies into a cutting edge art and performance space. Year round it puts on a programme of largely avant-garde and occasionally political visual art exhibitions, talks, music, theatre, dance and film events – as well as functioning as a space for workshops and residencies.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a complex of two large buildings on opposite sides of Belford Road, a short walk to the west of the city centre, which house regular high-profile contemporary art exhibitions and play host to the Scottish National Galleries’ permanent display of works from its contemporary collection. Modern One is the largest of the two exhibiting spaces, and in recent years has held retrospective exhibitions by artists like Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, as well as numerous blockbuster group shows.
The Scottish National Gallery and the adjoining Royal Scottish Academy form a complex in the heart of Edinburgh, just off Princes Street and in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. The more (relatively) modest Scottish National Gallery to the rear hosts a permanent collection of classical art and occasional small-scale temporary exhibitions, while the RSA is used for large-scale temporary shows of contemporary work.
One of the flagship venues run by the National Galleries of Scotland, this incredible gothic-style building was designed by Robert Rowand Anderson and opened for business in 1889. In recent years it has benefited from a major refurbishment that saw a fresh curatorial eye applied to its collection and a freshening of the interior. Since its 2011 relaunch, the impressive atrium – with its star-spangled ceiling and frieze of figures from Scottish history – feels more vibrant than ever. The art tells the tale of Scotland since the 16th century through the medium of portraiture; the gallery also hosts photography exhibitions, contemporary and historical.
The Fruitmarket Gallery is one of Scotland’s most important contemporary art spaces, hosting exhibitions by a range of influential British and international artists with a particular emphasis on high profile Scots. Over two good-sized levels, the Fruitmarket hosts individual and group shows and have lately featured work by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Toby Paterson, Jim Lambie and Douglas Gordon.
Founded in 1977, the Stills is a centre for photography, offering a wide range of production facilities and education courses. Its main storefront gallery hosts a continuing series of first rate and well-curated exhibitions, using the photographic medium. These can include film work or modern art shows that involve an element of photography, and often they concern themselves with contemporary artistic practice and political applications in the use of photography as much as the technical abilities displayed.
Established in 1984, the Collective Gallery was for many years a mainstay of a typical storefront unit on Cockburn Street, before leaving the premises in 2013 to relocate to a new space on top of Calton Hill in the old City Observatory and Dome. In doing so it’s made itself slightly harder to access, with a substantial uphill walk required to get there, but it’s also situated among some stunning natural surroundings.
Art buyers and artist representatives Richard and Florence Ingleby have repurposed a former gig venue to create a versatile exhibition space for their gallery. The three-room building has hosted numerous group and solo shows from artists including Ian Hamilton Findlay, Callum Innes, Jonathan Owen and Peter Liversidge, while the Billboard For Edinburgh project has seen an old advertising billboard on the side of the building used for one-off site specific commissions to fit the medium.
A commercial venture which has been active for 45 years, Edinburgh Printmakers has built a substantial reputation for itself. Spread across two attic rooms, the gallery is compact, although it has welcomed the work of high-profile artists – predominantly but not exclusively Scots – over the last few years including Calum Colvin, John Bellany and Kirsty Whiten, as well as numerous group shows.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2014, the Embassy is the most long-running and highly regarded of Edinburgh’s grassroots, artist-run gallery spaces. Usually exhibiting group shows, entry is open to all members of the gallery, with particular historical links being held between the Embassy and the student body of Edinburgh College of Art. Expect to see a range of raw and contemporary works with a similar spirit to the best of an Art College degree show.
The Talbot Rice Gallery's main space is an airy and modern atrium-slash-hangar completely out of keeping with the grand old architectural style of the exterior, but that perfectly suits the gallery's remit: a changing selection of solo, retrospective and thematically linked exhibitions highlighting the work of British and international contemporary artists.