Plant Scenery of the World

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh until October 27

WHEN the internationally-respected Inverleith House, known for 30 years of adventurous, stimulating programming under Director of Exhibitions Paul Nesbitt, was suddenly permanently closed last October, it seemed, given the rhetoric, that anything approaching a return to business as usual was entirely off the cards. Amidst all the politicking it still does, but in the meantime, this much-anticipated one-off exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the modernist Front Range Glasshouses.

This is a botanical exhibition at heart, excellently put together by exhibitions curator Chloe Reith under what must be very trying circumstances. Boxes have been ticked. But Reith has a sense of humour. The periodical, never published, from which the exhibition takes its name was compiled by R.K.Greville, a Scot who had never been abroad, commissioned by the Botanics in the 19th century to paint the plants of the world in their natural habitats. Expostulating to an audience who had largely never been abroad either, Greville perhaps reasoned that he had a certain amount of artistic licence, and took it with the proverbial knobs (and misplaced tree ferns) on.

Downstairs, Charlie Billingham’s large-scale details of bawdy 18th century political satire form the backdrop to a selection of rare architectural drawings of the glasshouses. The lot is mounted on walls printed in an eye-popping glasshouse print, coy carp included. Other rooms include witty new works by Bobby Niven, a carpet infused with plants from the glasshouse by Laura Aldridge and Ben River’s haunting film Urth, inspired by the failed Arizona Biosphere 2 experiment. There is also a vast triptych of the Titan Arum in flower for those who can’t face the queues for the real thing, currently flowering in the glasshouses themselves. Go, enjoy the sensation of being back amongst the art at Inverleith, and press for more and soon.