Edinburgh Alphabet (4 stars)

This article is from 2017

Alexander Nasmyth, The Port of Leith, 1824

Alexander Nasmyth, The Port of Leith, 1824 / credit: City Art Centre, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh

City's story told through alphabetically arranged objects from the Museum and Galleries Edinburgh collection

The concept behind this extensive four-floor exhibition is a simple one, although the actual curation must have been complex; essentially, the idea is to tell the story of Edinburgh using items sourced from across the collections of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, creating an A to Z trail of artefacts which shine a useful light upon the city for locals and visitors alike. The project has been intelligently completed, taking in the more obvious touchstones (tartan and tourism are both there), to a number of inventive inclusions; 'Z' is for 'Zeitgeist', for example, with a display of photographs and banners from recent protest marches.

'X' also enjoys a clever workaround with 'X-Factor', taking in odd acquisitions which have no obvious home elsewhere, like a stack of photographs by the photographer Thomas Begbie, bought privately by a local councillor with no knowledge of their significance in 1950 and stored in his house for four decades. There are some lovely pieces of art (Alexander Nasmyth's painting of the Port of Leith; John Bellany's 'The Obsession'; the striking photographic results of the recent Capture Edinburgh competition) and a few odd inclusions, such as examples of the Museum of Childhood's action figure collection, but it's the sense of storytelling throughout which elevates this weighty social history display. Everyone who visits will learn something new.

City Art Centre, until 8 Oct, free.

Edinburgh Alphabet

  • 4 stars

Objects assembled from the Museums and Galleries Edinburgh collections, giving an outline of the history of Edinburgh.