Artist and writer Yayoi Kusama in her Shinjuku studio, copyright Alex Majoli Magnum Photos 2016

The Year Ahead in Exhibitions at Aberdeen Art Gallery

A rich programme of large and small-scale exhibitions for visitors of all ages and many interests in 2023 has been revealed by Aberdeen Art Gallery. The programme includes a celebration of the work of Britain’s best-loved illustrator, Sir Quentin Blake, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 16 December, through his book covers and illustrations for verse.

Some of the most renowned artists in recent history have been captured at work in their studios by 20 of the world’s finest photographers from the  Magnum Photos collective.

Three of Scotland’s foremost artists – Lennox Dunbar, Ian Howard and Arthur Watson – all of whom have key early works in the collection of Aberdeen Art Gallery, return to exhibit in their native city.

A rare and important 17th-century manuscript is a recent addition to the UNESCO-recognised city archives. It relates to Alexander Jaffray, a Provost of Aberdeen and convert to Quakerism, and sheds light on the civic and religious life of the city at a time of political upheaval and religious persecution.

Councillor Martin Greig, Aberdeen City Council’s culture spokesman said, “The Art Gallery has planned an exciting programme of exhibitions for 2023, showcasing a wide range of artists, subjects and media. Local artist James McBey is a favourite of many and the new display which marks the publication of the first-ever biography of the artist will be eagerly welcomed. It will be especially good to see the work of Aberdeen-born contemporaries Lennox Dunbar, Ian Howard and Arthur Watson, all of whom were greatly influenced by the art they experienced at Aberdeen Art Gallery. Quentin Blake's illustrations and also photographs from the  Magnum Agency are also important highlights of the year. The Provost Jaffray manuscript will tell us of his links to the local Quaker community. The beachwear exhibition will demonstrate the expressive potential of clothing. The forthcoming exhibitions programme promises to inspire and inform us, as well as providing a great deal of pleasure for local people and visitors to the city. “ 

Programme details:

Shadows and Light – The Extraordinary Life of James McBey
11 February – 28 May 2023
The celebrated Aberdeenshire-born artist and adventurer James McBey (1883-1959) was noted for his etchings and dry point engravings, and was once described as the “heir to Rembrandt”. This small-scale exhibition is curated by author Alasdair Soussi to coincide with his recently-published biography of McBey. Soussi’s book lays bare McBey’s complex personality, portraying a very human man whose talent, status and fame masked a multitude of insecurities. The author’s research drew on the unparalleled archive of the artist’s personal collection of artworks, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, diaries and letters in the Archives, Gallery & Museums’ collection, a selection of which are on display here. Alasdair Soussi will give a talk at Aberdeen Art Gallery on Saturday 15 April 2023.


Travelling Gallery
March 2023
The contemporary gallery in a bus is parking up in Aberdeen with a new two-person exhibition by artist Emmie McLuskey and choreographer Janice Parker which explores movement, bringing dance and people together in different ways and artforms. Look out for Travelling Gallery in locations across the city in March.

The Testament of Alexander Jaffray
4 March – 3 September 2023
2023 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Alexander Jaffray, twice provost of Aberdeen and representative of the burgh in the Scottish Parliament. This prominent member of the community later became a Quaker, at a time when doing so would certainly mean persecution. This exhibition uses the manuscript of Jaffray’s last testament, acquired by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives in 2022, as the starting point for a closer look at the man himself and the persecution endured by Quakers at the hands of the burgh authorities in 17th-century Aberdeen.

Where Ideas Are Born – an exhibition by Magnum Photos
1  April – 11 June 2023
This exhibition brings together works by over 20 photographers from the celebrated Magnum agency, including Inge Morath, Eve Arnold and Robert Capa. Around 70 photo portraits of internationally renowned artists capture the moment in their studios when the spark of creativity leaps over and ideas are born. Artists such as Andy Warhol, George O’Keefe,  Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama are all be seen in their creative environments: from the cramped studios of the Parisian avant-garde artists at the beginning of the 20th century, to the New York lofts of the American pop and minimal artists, to the highly-professional studios of the international stars of the contemporary art market.
An exhibition by Magnum Photos

Making a Splash! A Century of Women’s Beachwear
10 June 2023 – 14 January 2024
Seaside fashions have been influenced by social and political change, the Hollywood film industry and innovations in design and materials. This exhibition showcases bathing costumes and other highlights from the Archives, Gallery & Museums’ collection of 20th century beachwear.

Quentin Blake – Illustrating Verse and Book Covers
8 July – 17 September 2023
Two exhibitions under one roof at the Art Gallery celebrate the unique talent of Quentin Blake, the UK’s best-loved illustrator, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday. Illustrating Verse brings together for the first time a selection Blake’s sketches and illustrations for a range of poetry, from comic nonsense poems to poignant ballads by writers including William Shakespeare, Edward Lear, Michael Rosen and Roald Dahl, as well as Blake’s own popular rhyming picture book Mr Magnolia. Book Covers demonstrates how Blake’s illustrations have grabbed the attention of readers of all ages over the past 60 years. The exhibition includes reproductions of cover artwork and rough sketches which give insights into Blake’s unmistakable and ever-popular way of working.
Touring exhibitions from Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration


Constructed Narratives: Lennox Dunbar, Ian Howard, Arthur Watson
14 October 2023 – 28 January 2024
This exhibition brings together three of Scotland’s foremost artists – Lennox Dunbar, Ian Howard and Arthur Watson. The Aberdeen-born contemporaries were educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where art teacher Charles Hemingway encouraged them to spend time with the outstanding collection of contemporary art at Aberdeen Art Gallery. The artists went on to hold significant roles in Scotland’s art schools: Ian Howard taught at Aberdeen and Dundee Colleges of Art and later became head of Edinburgh College of Art; Lennox Dunbar is Emeritus Professor of Fine Art at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen; Arthur Watson was senior lecturer in fine art at Dundee College of Art and is a past President of the Royal Scottish Academy. All three have key early works in the Aberdeen Art Gallery collection, which are displayed here along with more recent pieces. Over their careers Dunbar, Howard and Watson have exhibited extensively across Europe, the United States and Asia, both together and as solo artists.


Aberdeen Art Gallery
Schoolhill, Aberdeen AB10 1FQ
Open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 11am-4pm, admission free

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