Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket gallery reopens with new double-height performance space

Ten years after a major overhaul was first mooted for Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket, a contemporary space in the heart of the city, the gallery reopens tomorrow after a £4.3million overhaul. Now attached to the existing building is a new double-height warehouse space, connected by walkway to the two existing gallery spaces, which will double the gallery’s footprint.

Several artists have been prominent supporters of the project, even as the Covid pandemic put construction on hold and drove up costs. Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, considered a ‘champion of construction’, donated the proceeds of a neon artwork which sold for over £50,000. Painter Callum Innes, a former Turner Prize nominee, is a long-time supporter of the Fruitmarket and helped choose the project’s architect, Edinburgh-based Reiach and Hall.

The connecting ramp between the old and new spaces of the gallery Courtesy of Reiach and Hall Architects

Artist Tania Kovats designed a £15,000 ceramic water fountain for the building, for visitors to fill their water bottles. It was part of a ‘gift registry’ the gallery set up to raise funds, asking donors to buy gifts for the gallery, with toilet roll holders for £25 at the low end . Mega-dealers Manuela and Iwan Wirth, of Creed’s Hauser & Wirth Gallery, are also big supporters.

The opening show features Turner Prize nominee Karla Black with two new commissions from among the 30 works she has produced over the past 20 years. This includes sculptures from when Black represented Scotland at the 2011 Venice Biennale in an exhibition curated by Fruitmarket.

Karla Black’s exhibition at Fruitmarket Photo: Ruth Clark

The Fruitmarket, a former fruit and vegetable market, opened as a gallery in 1974 and has featured artists from Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Hockney to Louise Bourgeois and William Kentridge. It operates through a mixture of public funding and donor support, with a popular cafe and shop.

The gallery is a short walk from the entrance to Edinburgh Waverley station and the new development of the former nightclub next door will add to the open frontage to attract visitors. The Fruitmarket is free and boasts a young and diverse audience with 45% under the age of 25. It attracted 200,000 visitors in 2018.

Sculptures by Karla Black at Fruitmarket Photo: Neil Hanna

Black’s sculptures are typically seemingly fragile structures of pink and white household materials, from polystyrene and cellophane to plaster powder and paint, which are left in powder form. His new job Waiver for shadow uses soil, copper and gold leaf, playing on the darker tones of the unfinished brick and steel of the new double-height space.

Fiona Bradley, manager since 2003, says the warehouse was a place of “raw creativity,” which will host performances by theater artists. “We really hope this space inspires people and I want artists to come up with ideas and projects that we can figure out how we can afford to do,” she says. Black, whose exhibition will continue as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, says this gives the building the international feel of a kunsthalle space.

In November, artist Jyll Bradley will present a new commission that draws inspiration from historic structures used in Scotland to grow fruit. An exhibition by American artist and anti-racism activist Howardena Pindell follows. And next summer, artist Daniel Silver will once again occupy the entire building.