Who knows what’s behind the closed door? That deceptively posh exterior in Edinburgh’s York Place contains many surprises. Just before the Scottish National Portrait Gallery closed for renovation two years ago they gave their grand hall over to graffiti artists.
With the space cleared, streets artists moved in and created a (literally) fantastic exhibition during the Fringe.
RoughCut Nation was a remix of Scotland’s history by a collective of young artists adding their own interpretations to the murals and revolutionising the atmosphere inside.
A huge pile of paint pots grew in the corner while the hall rocked to the sound of local bands including Glasgow’s John Knox Sex Club. Then, to the public anyway, all was silence for two years while staff – and works of art – retreated to the other side of town leaving the old building to masons and joiners, architects and project managers. And the gradually fading sound of tram works in the streets outside.
Now, with the reopening just a few weeks away there are new ambitious plans, among them bright ideas to hand at least some of the space inside over to the people. It will cost you, but you can join the Gallery of Stars on the ceiling in the Grand Hall (or dedicate a star to someone special in your life). Actually the cost is not outrageous, you can name a small star for £6.95 a month until you reach the £250 total. For £50, you can Put Yourself in the Picture and become part of the face of the nation, or at least show up on the website and revolving screen in the gallery. Or for £2,000 up to £25,000 you can adopt a figure from Scotland’s past. Crowd-sourcing cash with a difference.
Look out for the grand reopening on 1 December, Scottish National Portrait Gallery which first opened in 1889, tends to do things in style. When Scottish solicitors Burness sponsored the William Klein street photography exhibition some years ago, gas torches flared on the gallery steps, Frank Sinatra’s voice soared on speakers (pointing out of the building!) and, as they arrived, guests to the private view were handed dry martini or whisky sour while a jazz band played on the minstrels gallery. For one flamboyant winter evening New York met the New Town.
A different, but equally impressive, spectacle took place on pavements outside the gallery this week when staff hoisted two grand masters, too big for the internal lift, in a ‘horse box’ specially designed to transport the paintings safely to their new home on the top floor. You can find this conservation challenge, and many other good stories, on Heads Up the gallery’s excellent behind-the-scenes blog.
No sign of the trams, which were supposed to be running past the gallery by now. [But, psst, you can catch Jamie and Harry as the Edinburgh Comedy Tour passes by on the way to The Stand.]
Thanks to Anny Deery for the photograph from the Rough Cut Nation exhibition August 2009. Above, the closed door of the gallery which will reopen to the public on 1 December 2011.