The neo-classical temple that now houses the Royal Scottish Academy, built by the architect William Henry Playfair in 1822-6 and extended in 1831-6 for the Board of Manufactures and Fisheries, is one of those classical buildings which contributed to the reputation of Edinburgh as the ‘Athens of the North’. Sitting alongside another neoclassical temple – the National Gallery of Scotland -, the Academy supports contemporary arts in Scotland and today is physically connected below ground into the adjacent National Gallery of Scotland building at the rear which gives it flexibilty in the way that it shows exhibitions, a project that was first proposed in the 1980′s when, at the same time, it was discovered that the old timber piles on which the Royal Scottish Academy sat had seriously deteriorated.
In February, when I visited, the Academy was housing the 2020 edition of ‘New Contemporaries’ - showing a selection of the best new talent in Scotland from the 2019 degree shows at universities and art schools in a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, film-making, photography, printmaking, installation, performance and architecture. The art was varied – reflecting the world outside – with some comfortable, some challenging. For me, the paintings and the architectural projects – rooted in reality – were the best.
We used to see a selection of these artists in London, with support from the David Reynolds Foundation and the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, both of whom have given up their London gallery spaces, but that doesn’t seem to happen as much these days and I guess other UK-wide shows such as the Other Art Fair at the Truman Brewery have taken on this role.