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Glasgow – the rebellious prodigy of the UK’s contemporary art scene

February 10, 2016

ArtsGroup Exhibition | by Harry Seymour


If the UK’s contemporary art scene were a map, it would appear with London as a huge domineering capital, then small pockets of buzz dotted around the nuclei. These pockets, for a long time, have been seen as a bit naïve, a bit traditional, a bit folky. The sort of art you get in your “local” exhibitions that could never be seen as edgy enough to cut its teeth in London. Certainly there were good artists operating outside of London, but if you wanted to be a great artist, you needed to be there. It was only until several decades ago that if you hadn’t graduated from Central Saint Martins you weren’t worth considering. That emphasis shifted in the 90’s to the outskirts of London with Goldsmiths being the hot place to study. However in the last decades, the model has been re-written. Due to a variety of reasons, ranging from London’s soaring costs being unsustainable for many struggling artists to afford, to the internet making digital communications possible from anywhere, instantaneously. You can now be one of the best artists in the world anywhere as long as you have wi-fi.

University of Glasgow Tower. Credit University of Glasgow.
University of Glasgow Tower. Credit University of Glasgow.

Glasgow exemplifies this – the Glasgow School of Art (Or GSA to those in the know) is a beacon of creativity in a city that has often been perceived as having a gloomy history. Since the city’s docks began to decline, it began to loose its position as an industrious rich and prosperous city (as so often was the case across the country, i.e. Liverpool, Stoke, Bristol). But Glasgow, perhaps thanks to a handful of extremely wealthy merchants who plunged their fortunes in to the cities creative enterprises in the first decades of the 1900’s, clung to its creativity. It’s a fine, if not the finest, example of how a city can regenerate through art that this country has. Its art school has brought about generations of creative whose fondness for the city has meant they stay, and work tirelessly within the city to promote it as a worldwide leader in contemporary art and design. The culture is what makes the otherwise slightly dreary city buzz – and it very much feels alive with art. It’s a successful model that has no mould – Glasgow feels like a rule breaker – its punk attitude has meant that people there just do what they want – one of the reasons why other cities who have tried to copy this model but failed, because it feels too forced (Bristol worked because of its same attitude). And as the first generations of people to champion this arts hub reach their middle age, prosperity is flourishing in the city. Its important to not confuse prosperity with gentrification at this point – as everything happening in Glasgow feels real, and welcomed. A plethora of galleries, studios, trendy restaurants, shops and hotels have opened to cater to both locals and tourists, and as Glasgow feels like it is teetering on the edge of cool, there has never been a better time to visit. And because the council oversees all the city’s galleries, they’re all open for free. Here is Candid’s guide to the getting the best from Glasgow’s contemporary art in a weekend.

Glasgow School of Art

The birthplace of Glasgow’s creativity and coolness, the School of Art is in the city’s most iconic building, designed by Scotland’s Art Nouveau darling, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it cuts a fine shape across the skyline. Gutted by fire in May 2014 the original school building is now closed while under refurbishment, but the opposite striking contemporary wing of the art school is open with a shop and historical exhibition. The school runs walking tours of Glasgow lead by students – the “Miracle” tour aims to uncover the slightly problematic term coined by famous curator Hans Ulrich Obrist which describes the boom in contemporary art since the 70’s in Glasgow. Taking in various city sites including public monuments, architecture, public and commercial galleries and of course the art school, the tour provides the perfect introduction to the city and its contemporary history.

Glasgow School of Art and The Glasgow Miracle Tour, various dates and times. 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RQ.

Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art

Transmission Gallery

Open since 1983, Transmission gallery is at the forefront of Glasgow’s scene. It is run by a committee of normally around 6, mostly alumni of the School of Art. Members of the committee can stay a maximum of two years meaning that a constant renewal of the board keeps ideas very much on the pulse. Often artists themselves, the committee curates exhibitions, oversees an archive and organises events, exchanges and a publication. Born as a labour of love for the six the gallery feels incredibly fresh, and representative of Glasgow – its socialist, nurturing, hard working and incredibly proud of its contemporary art and artists – as personified in this 2 story microcosm. The byword here is community. Check their website for upcoming exhibitions and events.

Transmission Gallery, 28 King Street, Glasgow, G1 5QP.

Transmission Gallery. Image courtesy The Skinny.
Transmission Gallery. Image courtesy The Skinny.

The Burrell Collection

Housed in an unlikely stark glass atrium in a forest on the outskirts of the city is the Burrell Collection – an assemblage of over 8,000 objects bought by Sir William Burrell, a shipping merchant and philanthropist who left his collection to the city of Glasgow in 1944. Consisting of everything from Ancient Greek vases, Chinese ceramics, Medieval arms and armour and a small but fantastic collection of Impressionist paintings and Rodin bronzes, the collection typifies the cities turn of the century devotion to the arts that helped it become a centre for the nurturing of creativity and the arts – it was men like Burrell that Glasgow has to thank for this legacy. It is also important to remember the history of commercial collecting – Contemporary art will always need (for better or worse) need wealthy buyers to sustain their trade – and the nature of collecting is often wide and varied yet extremely personal – this museum typifies a multitude of tastes and how one person can love artistic expression in a variety of forms. With a lively programme of tours, workshops and activities it’s a welcome break from the city centre and an important insight in to the city’s historical patronage of the arts.

The Burrell Collection, Pollok Country Park, 2060 Polloshaws Road, Glasgow, G43 1AT.

Burrell Collection, Credit Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums)
Burrell Collection, Credit Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums)

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Now the fifteenth most visited museum in the world, the Kelvingrove first opened in 1901. Split in to 22 themed galleries, over 8,000 objects cover a huge variety of cultures and nature; form spitfires to stuffed elephants, famous Rembrandt paintings to Scottish archaeology and Egyptian Mummies to antique cars – the museum is collection of the beautiful and interesting from all walks of life. The museum reopened after grand refurbishment in 2006 and is very much the pride of Glasgow museums. Full of generations of families, it inspires wonderment through its clever curation, which is emotional and inspirational. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel like a child again and a reminder of Glasgow’s rich history of collecting and promoting art. Holding changing exhibitions and with a large educational centre the museum is archetype city museum.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG.

Kelvin grove Art Gallery & Museum
Kelvin grove Art Gallery & Museum

Leiper Gallery

The building was once home to Alex Reid, a Scottish art dealer who once shared an apartment with Van Gogh in Paris, Reid is credited with bringing Impressionist art to Scotland. He imported beautiful paintings and sculptures to the city, displaying them in the grand window of this space, to be snapped up by the rich merchants walking by. Reid single handedly defined Glasgow’s taste in art at the time. Now home to the Leiper Gallery, specialising in prints, originals and photography of Scottish artists – this place is a bit of an anomaly. Think hand drawn caricatures, highland photography and oil paintings of Scottish bar interiors. It isn’t aiming to complete with the cutting edger contemporary galleries of the city, but deals in what could be called a more “local” and traditional art. They’re certainly no Turner Prize Winners, but they’re not aiming to be – it’s modest, yet no less important than any other art coming out of the city and makes for a refreshing change of pace and thought when touring the art of the Glasgow, reminding you of the rich variety of both art’s producers and consumers.

Leiper Gallery, 117 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 1QR

Leiper Galery, Glasgow.
Leiper Galery, Glasgow.

Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)

Situated in the heart of Glasgow, the large neo-classical building was for over 100 years the city’s centre of goods and exchange. GoMA still stands by the building’s history – it’s now a centre for the exchange of ideas – it is a place for people to gather, learn, discuss and be inspired. The most visited contemporary art gallery in Scotland, GoMA is a bastion for cutting edge multi-disciplinary arts. Over several floors it contains permanent displays, exhibitions of well-known international artists and supports local talent, with a strong emphasis on inspiring the Glaswegian community. It’s become the focal point of contemporary art in the city, and through cleverly curated, well-executed shows, has found its feet on the global art stage. It feels extremely on the pulse and through encouraging a mix of historical art and research, audience participation and support for up and coming artists it presents a model for how galleries these days should be.

GoMA, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow G1 3AH.

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.
Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

And the rest while you’re in Glasgow…

Drink… at Porter & Rye

For drinks head to the cocktail bar at Porter and Rye – the city’s latest hot spot for excellent food and drinks. Sit at the bar and get friendly with the staff to try some of their personal concoctions. The atmosphere is romantic and the drinks flow easily without breaking the bank, all in the surroundings of hanging slabs of Scottish beef in glass refrigeration units. The emphasis is on Molecular cooking and small plate dining, and it’s the perfect place for a pick me up between galleries.

Porter & Rye, 1131 Argyle St, Glasgow, G3 8ND

Porter & Rye, Glasgow
Porter & Rye, Glasgow

Eat… at The Gannet

And for the best food in Glasgow, head to The Gannet. Owned and run by two chefs, Peter McKenna and Ivan Stein, it has been open just under two and a half years – in that time their seasonally minded menus and relaxed but informed service has gathered critical praise, national awards and a loyal regular clientele. The concept for the restaurant was born in the summer of 2012 when Peter and Ivan set off on a trip to the Hebrides to source produce for the restaurant they planned to open in Glasgow’s West End. By the end of the trip, having met scallop divers, oyster growers, fishermen, smokers, farmers, game producers and many interesting people besides, they also had a name for their new venture. Something that evokes Scotland’s Hebridean coastlines, giving a sense of place and landscape and at the same time offering a cheeky culinary reference as a moniker for those with large appetites. The Gannet has been named AA Restaurant of the year 2015 / 2016, awarded 3 AA Rosettes and holds a michelin Bib Gourmond.

The Gannet, 1155 Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8TB

The Gannet, Glasgow.
The Gannet, Glasgow.

Sleep… at Blythswood Square Hotel

The ideal place to stay is the ever-chic Blythswood Square Hotel – a grand Georgian masterpiece and a Glaswegian tradition with a rich history – the red lights in the window pay homage to it’s time as a brothel, then it was the Royal Automobile Club. Not a stylish and chic hotel it’s filled with white marble and sweeping staircases – and of course an excellent cocktail bar and spa. Rooms are modern and sumptuous with views across the city.

Blythswood Square Hotel, 11 Blythswood Square, Glasgow, G2 4AD, UK

Blythswood Square Hotel, Glasgow.
Blythswood Square Hotel, Glasgow.