‘Portacabins’ show off art until new site is built

Kate Gray is satisfied the temporary gallery spaces are fit for the job. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Kate Gray is satisfied the temporary gallery spaces are fit for the job. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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A FLAGSHIP modern art gallery is to move to “portacabin-style steel containers” next to the landmark City Observatory on Calton Hill.

Bosses at the Collective Gallery, currently based in Cockburn Street, said the proposed accommodation would be a “fleeting” feature offering exhibition space to artists from across the country. They also insisted the new units would become a valued arts venue while work on turning the Observatory into the 
gallery’s new home – expected to be complete within the year – continues.

Conservation leaders 
welcomed the proposals as a “fantastic opportunity” for 
residents and tourists.

Kate Gray, gallery director, said: “They definitely won’t be typical portacabins. They will be proper, temporary gallery spaces, and there are a number of cities on the Continent which have used something similar.”

Rising almost half a metre above the observatory walls, the containers will function as a “temporary decant” facility for the Scotland-focused strand of Collective’s internationally-renowned exhibition and development work.

Manufactured by Containex, which has provided similar units to galleries and bookshops across Europe, the grey and green-coloured building on Calton Hill will also have reflecting glazed sections allowing passers-by to look in.

Ms Gray said the new space would provide unique possibilities for producing and showing work, with an exhibition of downloadable audio recordings and prints by Scots artist Ruth Ewan lined up for August.

“We have faith that our artists will find the interesting aspect of working in that context,” she said. “Of course, we may find there are challenges but we often find that challenges are fruitful and we fully expect that to be the case for artists here. We will find that out as we go along but we would not be moving there if we did not think we could make this work.”

She added: “We have worked really hard with the council and conservation architects to design something that’s 
appropriate.”

Heritage body the Cockburn Association said it was “relaxed” about the proposals after the height of the new building was reduced.

Assistant director Euan Leitch said: “The amended plans do look more sensitive. The fact that a gallery is moving in is a fantastic opportunity for local residents and visitors to the city.”