The Aberdeen Artists Society’s (AAS) exhibition, Coming Home, was due to take place in June in the newly refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery to celebrate the society’s return to the gallery for the first time since 2014. The AAS, one of the longest established artist-led organisations in Scotland was formed in 1827 and began holding annual exhibitions in the gallery in 1885. Coming Home, a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar was eagerly anticipated. Dr Joyce Cairns, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, and a former president of the AAS, was due to open the exhibition in the gallery. By the time the gallery closed in March due to the pandemic, the society had already received hundreds of submissions for the exhibition and the decision was taken to hold the event online. The online exhibition opens with a welcome video by Dr Cairns expressing her support for a project, which has attracted many well-known local and international artists.
This was a new venture for the AAS, a bold and imaginative response to the constraints of the pandemic, but creating an online exhibition presented new challenges and considerations. How do you curate an online gallery space? About one hundred and twenty selected artworks would have been displayed in the Art Gallery, the rest were to be shown on a video projected onto the walls. The solution was to display the selected works for the online exhibition in a series of ‘rooms,’ with themes such as ‘Lightness of Being’ and ‘Transformations’, with other work displayed in ‘galleries’. This style of curation allows the viewer to ‘wander’ and browse at leisure through the exhibition by either viewing the artworks one at a time, or by viewing ‘thumbnail’ images, or selecting by the names of individual artists. Some of the artworks are accompanied by comments from the curators. A welcome feature of the online exhibition is the opportunity to read the artist’s description of their work, to learn more about their practice and discover what inspires them, as well as providing biographical details and links to websites.
The exhibition is stunning with a wide variety of artworks on display, and in these difficult times it has provided a much-needed opportunity for artists to showcase their work. There is a gallery which pays tribute to the work of Alexander Fraser, RSA who died earlier this year, and another gallery that showcases this year’s prize winners.
Noust – safely Home by prize-winner John Inglis presents an accomplished and inventive water colour diptych which speaks of refuge in a storm and also to the theme of ‘coming home’. House at the Reservoir by prize-winner Michelle Ives is a beautifully balanced and pleasing composition inspired by a local walk, something we have all valued in recent times. Gavin Young’s Archaeologists, a detailed figurative work set in Aberdeen, is packed with meaning and symbolism in relation to an Aberdeen landscape that will be familiar to many. Other works such as Halcyon Days by Mary May and Anita Inverarity’s playful Emergence are colourful and bright, and a joy to look at.
Despite so many aspects of our lives now being confined to virtual or online experiences, the AAS online exhibition has an innovative and fresh appeal and is a pleasure to view. Whilst we might not have had the liberty to roam in recent times, the artists have shown that, even in difficult times, imagination, creativity, and an ability to cast a critical and discerning eye on the world need never be fettered.