First look at former Edinburgh nightclub reborn as new cultural space for city under gallery expansion

It has a chequered history as a magnet for nightclubbers in Edinburgh spanning five decades.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 11:59 pm
Susie Gladwin gets a sneak preview of the new space at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh.
Susie Gladwin gets a sneak preview of the new space at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh.

But now a 19th century market building above the city’s Waverley Station has been transformed into a major new addition to the city’s cultural landscape which promises to help revive its nightlife scene.

A long-awaited overhaul and expansion of one of Scotland’s leading contemporary art galleries will see the new warehouse space play host to drama, dance, music and poetry events as well as visual exhibitions.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is expected to work with other festival and event organisers and promoters to turn it into a major new venue for the city centre boasting original features more than a century old.

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Fruitmarket Gallery director Fiona Bradley. Picture: Chris Scott

The steel-framed and brick-lined industrial architecture of the Victorian fruit market on Market Street was revealed following the stripping out of the former Electric Circus nightclub, which was also known as Buster Browns and Mercado when it was open as far back as the last 1970s.

Its owners agreed to give up the site to help the gallery expand four years ago, spelling an end to nightclubbing on the site, but unlocking a long-planned redevelopment of the Fruitmarket.

The gallery had warned for years that its future was under threat because its facilities were out of date and it did not have enough space for major shows.

Now it has effectively doubled in size with the creation of the new space following a two-year closure, with the Fruitmarket unveiling a major show spanning 20 years of work by the Turner Prize-nominated Scottish artist Karla Black.

The new-look Fruitmarket Gallery will reopen to the public today.

The £4.3 million project, which has been in the planning stages for the last decade, is said to be the first major cultural development to be completed in the UK since the start of the pandemic, which delayed its unveiling by around a year.

As well as boasting a second major space for exhibitions, the gallery has been able to expand its hugely popular cafe and bookshop, create a new main staircase, open a dedicated space for classes, workshops and meetings and create a new walkway to the former nightclub.

Director Fiona Bradley said: “I was employed in 2003 with a remit to expand the Fruitmarket. We’ve known that we didn’t have the facilities that we needed for artists or audiences for quite a long time.

"We didn’t get cracking right away, but we produced a feasibility study 10 years ago on what we wanted to remedy. The ambition wasn’t necessarily about expansion.

The former Buster Browns nightclub in Edinburgh has been transformed by the Fruitmarket Gallery.

“A lot our facilities were old and tired. Our galleries hadn’t been invested in for 20 years, the front door was hard to open, the lift didn’t work properly, we didn’t have enough toilets and we didn’t have an education space.

“Everything needed an upgrade and we needed better facilities, which inevitably meant we needed more space.

"The footprint of the exhibition spaces we had is the same, but they have been simplified and upgraded, with re-cladding of all the walls and new lighting.

"We wanted the thing that people loved about the Fruitmarket, such as the light flooding in from the top of the building, to stay the same.”

A brand new show by Turner Prize nominee Karla Black will be unveiled to the public at the new-look Fruitmarket. Picture: Neil Hanna

The Fruitmarket’s origins as a gallery date back to 1974 with the transformation of an old market building dating back to 1938 and it was radically overhauled in the mid-1990s. However the adjacent building which the Fruitmarket has expanded into is said to date back to 1889.

Bradley added: “We have left the new warehouse space as raw as possible. We have stripped a lot out, although only the first floor of the building had really been redeveloped over the years for nightclub spaces. All the original material used for the market was still there.

"When we went in we could see that if we knocked all the cladding out and all the other paraphernalia on the ground floor we would have a really big warehouse space.

“We felt we could create something really inspirational for artists working across different art forms if we could take as much out as possible and leave the space as raw as possible.

"We have offered it to Karla initially to show what it can do as an experimental space for a visual artist.

"But the idea is that the new space will learn and we will learn what it can do as long as artists can have ideas for it.

"We’re really hoping to have live music, theatre performers, dance events and encourage artists to using whatever art form or media that they feel is appropriate. We see it as a place for us to work in partnership with other people.

"It’s a new space right in the centre of Edinburgh that I think is a bit unexpected. We’re very keen to talk to other people about what we can do with it.”

Neil Gillespie, director of Reiach & Hall Architects, who were appointed to work on the project in 2018, said: “The original galleries are seen as a series of white spaces, abstract and precise. Surfaces are smooth and continuous while detail and material expression are suppressed.

"The palette in the warehouse, by contrast, is dark and sensual. It is a space that relishes the directness and crudeness of the existing steel frame, the strength and texture of the brick walls and the industrial timber floor. The mood is intense, almost visceral.

“As an ensemble they offer the artist, curator and their audience remarkable contrasting and complementary spaces for art and performance.”

Amanda Catto, head of visual arts at Creative Scotland, said: “Beginning with an unmissable exhibition of work by Karla Black, the expanded, transformed Fruitmarket will be at the heart of Edinburgh's year-round cultural scene, with new spaces and new opportunities to present the very best in Scottish and international contemporary art.

"This redevelopment marks an exciting new chapter for the Fruitmarket, the artists that it supports and the many visitors that it welcomes throughout the year.”

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