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August 30 2013

December 29 2011

The arts in 2012: visual arts

Adrian Searle picks his highlights of the year ahead

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011; Tate Modern retrospective

Fancy a world trip? All Gagosian's 11 galleries, from London to Hong Kong, will be filled with Hirst Spot paintings in January. This dotty explosion is a mere aperitif to Tate Modern's retrospective in April. How much of what he's done over the last quarter decade really makes the grade – and how much is hype? The Complete Spot Paintings, Gagosian, London, 12 January to 18 February. Details: gagosian.com. Damien Hirst, Tate Modern, London SE1, 5 April to 9 September. Details: tate.org.uk

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

Shrigley's cartoons, photographs and animations are painful, violent, nihilistic, appalling and very often hilarious. Frequently emulated but never bettered, his humour is as dark as it gets. Hayward Gallery, London SE1, 1 February to 13 May. Details: southbankcentre.co.uk

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Returning to Yorkshire, Hockney has swapped the sprinkled lawns and sunny pools of southern California for muddy fields, stands of beeches, and plain-air painting on brisk northern days. He is a great draughtsman and his art can be very atmospheric, sexy and sophisticated. I am more curious than hopeful about his later work. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, 21 January to 9 April. Details: royalacademy.org.uk

Gillian Wearing

Wearing's photographs and films dig under the skin of everyday life. She is much more interesting than the confessional humiliations of reality TV, conflating a mania for self-exposure with a lightness and human touch, deft humour and a sense of life's pathos. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London E1, 28 March to 17 June. Details: 020-7522 7888. whitechapelgallery.org

Tino Sehgal

Dancing gallery attendants, art-history kisses, conversations with precocious children: Sehgal's art is one of live confrontation and surprise. The Turbine Hall commission goes to an artist whose work is as social as it is theatrical. Tate Modern, London SE1, 17 July – 28 October. tate.org.uk

Yoko Ono

How substantial an artist Ono is remains a question, though her impact on contemporary art has been described as "enormous". Her delightful small gestures, vulnerability and benign silliness can get overlooked. She'll be uploading smiles from around the world for a new work here. Serpentine Gallery, London W2, 19 June to 9 September. Details: serpentinegallery.org

Lucian Freud

More than 100 portraits by the painter, who died in 2011. The subject of many exhibitions, Freud continues to surprise and bewilder, however familiar many of his paintings may be. The longer you look, the weirder and more impressive he gets. National Portrait Gallery, London WC2, 9 February to 27 May. Details: npg.org.uk

Documenta 13

This five-yearly keynote show of contemporary art worldwide, held in the German town of Kassel, is like sticking a wet finger in the air to check the wind. Polemical, political, always controversial, Documenta depends on the strengths – and weaknesses – of its invited curators. This time the team is led by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Kassel, Germany, 9 June to 16 September. Details: d13.documenta.de

Glasgow international festival

A corrective to Cultural Olympiad madness, this always impressive festival features Richard Wright at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, "performed installations" at Tramway, and Transmission's show of works by anonymous artists. More than 130 artists will show in 50 venues around the only British city outside London with a distinctive scene of its own. Various venues, 20 April to 7 May. glasgowinternational.org


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October 17 2011

Glasgow's Turner connection

Why does Glasgow keep producing so many Turner prize winners and nominees? Could it all be down to this man? Charlotte Higgins investigates

Over the past few years, there has been a distinctly Scottish flavour to the Turner prize. Last year, the winner was Glasgow-born Susan Philipsz, for a sound installation she created in the seedy, dank shadow of a bridge over the Clyde. The year before, it was Richard Wright, for his intricate, painstakingly made wall paintings; he did his masters at the Glasgow School of Art and still lives in the city.

This week, the work of all four shortlisted artists goes on show at the Baltic, Gateshead – and two are Glaswegian: Martin Boyce, whose sculptures do fearful things with modernist interior design; and Karla Black, who uses lipstick, pastel-coloured candles, eyeshadow and sugar paper as her materials. Artists based or born in the city who have been shortlisted in the recent past include Jim Lambie, Christine Borland, Cathy Wilkes, Lucy Skaer and Nathan Coley. There have been two further winners in Douglas Gordon and Simon Starling.

If the Turner prize provides a rough-and-ready compass bearing for visual art in Britain, the needle has for some time been twitching towards this grandiose, grandiloquent, sometimes rough-and-ready city. Why? A clue can be found in the first issue, from September 1991, of the contemporary art magazine Frieze. It contains an interview with three artists in their early 20s. They have just graduated from the Glasgow School of Art. They are articulate, cocky and funny. They seem to know, with an intense certainty, that they are artists, not just art-school graduates. One writes off, with breathtaking chutzpah, a then-prominent school of Scottish painters as "a tiny, unimportant part of the international art world". Another, while admitting such a formulation is crass, says their own work has "more to do with hip-hop and the Face than Constable". These young guns are Douglas Gordon, Nathan Coley and Martin Boyce. Five years after the interview, Gordon – now best known for film works such as 24-Hour Psycho and Zidane – won the Turner prize.

Something very particular happened at the Glasgow School of Art in the late 1980s. A group of young Glaswegians – including Coley, Gordon, Boyce and Borland – began to study a new course: environmental art, led by the now-retired David Harding. "They were confident and confrontational and questioning‚" says Harding, when we meet in his flat among the elegant terraces of Glasgow's west end, a picture of Bob Dylan on the wall, a Peter Seeger LP propped on the piano. "I was astonished by their articulacy."

The course was not traditional painting or sculpture. It was, say its graduates, about ideas. The context for making work was as important as the work itself. The department was not based in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed main building, but in a former girls' school that was used as a site for making work. "It was an amazing place," says Harding. "There were basements with 50 children's sinks in them, history books lying around in piles. There were attics, strange, devious, different rooms. An Escher-like staircase. One half of the school was locked off and forbidden. Of course, the students broke in."

The students were required to do art projects outside the school, to find sites, negotiate with owners. "They began to be wheelers and dealers. They had to forage in other departments to get access to dark rooms, printing facilities. They had," says Harding, "a piratical attitude."

It was an attitude in tune with the times. As Coley says, "We were children of Thatcher. Doing it for yourself was in the air. It seems crazy what we did now: we'd get money for international projects out of a combination of ignorance and blind confidence." Down south, a group of artists – many of them graduates from Goldsmith's, London – were also operating in a new way. But if some of these Londoners, quickly dubbed YBAs, were selling to Charles Saatchi and making work with the quickfire cheerfulness of billboard ads, that certainly wasn't happening in Glasgow. The YBAs were entrepreneurs; the Glaswegians were scavengers. Their work was more lyrical, less immediate.

I meet Coley at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios, a hive of quiet industry with its neatly organised metal and wood workshops and its 45 artists' studios. Coley's trim space is hung with work-in-progress: a series of photographs with certain areas blanked out with gold leaf: new work for a solo show in London next year. There was nothing magical about his and his friends' success, he says. "It was really, really hard work." It is clear, though, that there was a set of propitious circumstances that affected not just these young people in Glasgow, but the art world internationally. Moira Jeffrey, art critic of the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper, points out that the artists emerged "at a politically desperate moment. We forget how horrible the late 1980s were. It was the dwindling Tory era. In Glasgow, the situation was economically dire, but there was a good education system and student grants – and you could live cheaply." There was also, she says, a certain power "in the fabric of this city, built on sugar, ships and slavery. It is a very ambiguous heritage, but incredibly grand."

Perhaps the most important factor, though, was the web of relationships established between those students from the late 1980s – a way of interacting that seems to have set the tone for the Glasgow art world since. According to Harding: "We partied a lot. Drank a lot. And with people like Douglas, Martin, Nathan, I'd go to their weddings, their children's christenings, birthday parties, and still do."

The students fell in, and sometimes out, of love with each other. They mostly lived near each other, up on the windy heights of Garnethill near the art school. Gordon went out with Borland, and shared a flat with Katrina Brown, now a curator, who went out with Coley (the latter couple are still together). Brown is now director of The Common Guild, a gallery based in a house in Glasgow belonging to Gordon. Later, Gordon was best man at Richard Wright and Sarah Lowndes' wedding; she now lectures at the art school, and has written a study of the city's art scene called Social Sculpture.

After graduating, a rite of passage for many was to sit on the committee for the artist-run gallery, Transmission, which had been set up in 1983 to instigate all kinds of international projects. According to Coley, "There was a mixture of gallusness, confidence, and being a bit wide." Gallus is one of those almost untranslatable Scots words that hovers somewhere between uncompromising, bold, swaggering and unstoppable. Harding uses it, too. "They were gallus. They were going to prove that they could do something." They also, crucially, helped each other. Coley says, if a curator comes to Glasgow to see you, "There's an unwritten rule that you introduce them to someone else, too."

Borrow a book from a pop star

It wasn't a paradise; it was a struggle. There was some public funding, and the artists were often helped by unsung, visionary civil servants. But when the city's Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1998, it totally – and scandalously – ignored the new wave of Glasgow artists. Brown thinks that that early institutional blindness has been damaging, particularly to Glasgow's ability to support a market for contemporary art. "If your city gallery is saying Beryl Cook is an important artist, maybe you don't want to buy a Douglas Gordon," she speculates. The economics of the scene, she says, are "fragile".

This autumn, Sorcha Dallas, a Glasgow gallerist, announced she was closing her doors, citing the combination of the removal of the Creative Scotland funding that allowed her to visit international art fairs, and the recession. "It's not that there aren't rich people," says Dallas. "It's just that they choose to spend their money elsewhere. People here would be more inclined to buy a Jack Vettriano than a Douglas Gordon." Environmental art graduate Toby Webster, who co-founded The Modern Institute, a commercial gallery that has been of huge importance in promoting the work of the major Glasgow artists, says it is important for him to be in the city, "two minutes away from where the artists work". But most of his buyers live elsewhere. Perhaps the scene is so close-knit because its leading lights remain relatively unsung in their own city.

Is the Glasgow scene a flash in the pan, a one-off alchemical combination of people, place and time? The scene has, of course, changed. Different kinds of students have been attracted by the city's rising reputation, coming from England and abroad (at first, they were nearly all natives). Some of the early wave have stayed or drifted back to Glasgow, Borland, Boyce, Coley and David Shrigley all live here, no longer young guns, but established artists in their 40s. Jeffrey believes pop musicians set an important example, showing that you didn't have to move to London to make it. "It set a paradigm. Stephen Pastel, of the Pastels, had an international career, and he worked in a library. You could go and borrow a book from your favourite pop star. The people you'd see in the pub were selling records all over the world."

Harding has seen great changes to art-school education, funding cuts chief among them. His department was merged with sculpture. A decade ago, he retired. But he still has faith in students, he says. According to Jeffrey: "I had a period where I worried that Glasgow School of Art would become a posh finishing school: but people come here and start behaving like Glaswegian artists."

I ask Sarah Lowndes if she believes Glasgow will continue to produce Turner-shortlisted artists, or whether we are reaching the end of an era. She reels off younger but already established names such as Torsten Lauschmann and Lorna Macintyre; and mentions younger artists, too, "bright sparks" such as Tom Varley and Rebecca Wilcox. "There's a network that's not predicated on commercial success, but on the idea of community," she says.

And now for a song

In search of a younger scene, I head to a gallery called the Duchy, carved out of an old shop near St Mungo's Cathedral; it's a slightly ramshackle part of the city being smartened up for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Here, Glaswegians Lauren Currie, 26, and Ainslie Roddick, 24, are putting the finishing touches to their new show. The two – Currie, a graduate of Dundee's Duncan of Jordanstone college; Roddick, from the Glasgow School of Art – met when they were working in a deli, and set up the Duchy out of a conviction, says Currie, that "there needed to be somewhere for our generation of artists".

They turned next door into studios and rented them out to raise income for the gallery. They converted the space themselves. These immensely self-possessed young women, in their energetic but co-operative way, seem to have much of the spirit of their predecessors. "The older artists are accessible," says Roddick. "They go to shows, and there's something that keeps them here. It has given people a confidence that you can stay in Glasgow as an artist." This is a not-for-profit space; they are not interested in running a commercial gallery. "It's not needed," says Roddick firmly.

Towards the end of our conversation, Harding says something out of the blue: "The singing – that was really important." There was always lots of singing, he says. Every year, he would host a Burns supper in his flat. All the guests were expected to recite a poem or song. There is something remarkable about imagining these cool, perhaps rather belligerent, young artists standing up and singing, say, Scottish songs from their childhoods. Harding remembers one night in particular: "Before Douglas started singing, he said, 'I want to tell you a story. A curator was asking me: what were you taught in Glasgow? Where did it all come from?' And Douglas said, 'Singing.'"


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June 11 2011

Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, Glasgow – review

Zaha Hadid's fine transport museum would have been better still as part of a coherent Clyde regeneration plan

There is a zone of Glasgow so studded with culture and architecture, so richly fertilised with public investment, while also blessed by nature with the noble breadth of the Clyde, that it ought to be a wonder of the world. This zone, once full of shipyards, now contains the work of two Pritzker prize winners – Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid – and a probable Pritzker-winner-in-waiting, David Chipperfield.

Over the last 12 years, it has acquired a convention centre, two museums and the headquarters of BBC Scotland, a swoopy new bridge and a jaunty observation mast by the not-half-bad architect Richard Horden. But no one standing here could be exhilarated, moved or transformed by what they see. No one would say: "This is a nice place."

It is like an underplanned business estate, a landscape of things set in car parks, no matter what the architectural merit of each thing might be. In the gaps between the monuments and the car parks are inserted expedient slabs of commerce or the perfunctory ingratiation of exploitative blocks of flats. There is no coherence, no positive quality to the sum of the parts or to the combinations of one with another.

This is not to question the achievement of the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, or the pleasure to be had from its wonderful models of battleships and liners, its trams, cars, motorcycles and its giant steam locomotive built in Glasgow for South African Railways and now returned to its native city.

It is one of Hadid's most direct buildings, essentially a big, column-free shed mutated in two ways. First, its roof line is a jagged range of peaks and troughs, like Alps or gables abstracted to a cartoon; second, the shed is bent twice in plan, so that it takes the form of Z-shaped tube, whose end cannot be seen from the beginning. The profile of the cartoon Alps/gables is extruded through the length of the Z, as if squeezed from a gothic tube of toothpaste. Its underside forms the pleated ceiling of the shed, with strong horizontal lines leading you through the space. There are big, glass walls at each end: one is the entrance, the other frames a view of the tall ship Glenlee, moored outside.

The space is obviously about movement, suggesting the dynamism of which all the once-mobile exhibits are now deprived. There is something of train tracks or tram wires in the overhead lines and of train sheds and hangars in the building as a whole. It is not, however, a piece of faux industry in the style of many hi-tech science or transport museums around the world; it does not waggle girders and stud itself with rivets in fatuous emulation of trains and ships.

The Hadid space, unified by a single hue of yellowish-green, is architecture, not equipment, a room, not a machine, in which a cheerful melee of objects can coexist.

It is a pleasingly old-fashioned museum, confident in the appeal of its exhibits, not interested in forcing narratives and fixed routes on them or burdening them with too much interpretation. It is like stumbling into the attic of the industrial revolution and finding a rich haul of old toys and tools. Hadid's space creates a sense of direction which, paradoxically, allows for diffuse displays through which visitors can meander. If the building were less purposeful, the whole experience would become confusion.

The museum is mostly about interior. Outside, it is, typologically, a supermarket, being a big thing in a car park seeking to attract you in. There are signs that tell you that this is a more serious piece of architecture than most supermarkets, such as its air of intent and the degree of care in shaping zinc panels around the complex external shape, but, like a retail shed, it does not give much to its surroundings. Great, grey and curving, it has enigma and majesty, but not friendliness. The landscaping that clings to its flanks currently looks forlorn, although may appear less so once the trees have grown a bit.

To be inward-looking might be necessary, given the wilderness in which the museum stands. At a distance is a huddle of credit-crunched flats, and between them and the museum some scrub awaiting transformation into a shopping development. In the other direction, across more empty space, are the Foster and Chipperfield buildings. All the emptiness is to be developed by the Peel Group, which recently featured on these pages as the builders of the BBC's new offices in Salford. It is possible that it will do a better job than was done around the Foster conference centre, but there is not yet concrete evidence that it will.

What can be seen here now are the successes and failures of the ever-popular idea of culturally led regeneration, the notion that exotic baubles can lead ex-shipyards to a glittering future. The successes are that the museum, conference centre and other institutions are all there and there are some architectural satisfactions to be had, should that be your thing. As the Peel Group is not idiotic, we can expect some profitable development to turn up one day. What is lacking is the sense that this is a place or much reason to expect that it will be.

The thinking and ambition manifest inside the building are not seen outside. Part of the answer is to do with commercial necessity, but this then raises the question whether culture is being asked to do too much. If a museum has to work so hard at kick-starting and pump-priming, and if it is supposed to unlock territories many times its own size, it will not succeed at all its tasks.

It would be better to say that museums are good things to have in their own right and that they can form the nucleus of new, beautiful, cohesive pieces of city. This is different from saying that they can transform the vast voids of the Clyde's bank. It is also different from the (not entirely proved) theory that they tow shopping centres in their wake, which I suspect happens mostly for reasons other than the proximity of a museum. If the passion for building singular things on the Clyde had been matched by some energy and thought in the way they went together, it would be a much finer place than it is now.


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April 23 2010

'Is this the end of the world?'

Adrian Searle is fascinated by Christoph Büchel's grimly prison-like installation for the Glasgow art festival


April 20 2010

My Glasgow International top tips

What to do and where to go at Glasgow's festival of visual art

What to see at Glasgow International? If you are off to visit, the first thing is to read and inwardly digest Adrian Searle's lovely review. He starts by talking about the Christoph Büchel piece at Tramway – a vast, immersive (as the word du jour will have it) installation that leads you into a kind of re-created prison where a forensic investigation of a plane-crash seems to be be taking place. It is impressive in its scale but... somehow I just didn't quite fall in love with it. My disbelief remained unsuspended. Still, it's a good thing to start at Tramway, for there is plenty going on. Not least Douglas Gordon's film work, 24 Hour Psycho, in a new version. It's fantastic to revisit this piece, so often talked about, so much imitated. There's a nice programme of films running in one of the other spaces. Turtle Dreams by Meredith Monk (1983) was a particular pleasure to catch.

I agree with Adrian – don't miss Vestiges Park. It's a hoot. Presided over by the Oolite Sisterhood (some of whom seem to be men) it's part zoological park, part freak-show, part Victorian travelling fairground – a strange wilderness parked in a bit of railway-side, litter-covered waste ground by the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. I particularly enjoyed the Glove Museum. Actually it reminded me childhood visits to the reptile house. Really a bit sinister.

If you're in the West End this weekend you might also investigate Aphrodite at the Water Hole – an exhibition mounted by artists in two neighbouring tenement flats. Art competes with the paraphernalia of family life in rented accommodation...

In town, down towards the Clyde, there is a whole clump of things not to miss. The Modern Institute is Glasgow's most important gallery, home (well, metaphorically speaking) to Turner-prize-winning artists Jeremy Deller, Simon Starling and Richard Wright. They've moved into very very smart new premises – a converted laundry-cum-bathhouse, where the inaugural exhibition is devoted to Jim Lambie's metal sculptures (some of which, intriguingly, are formed from crushed suits of armour). Funnily enough after that visit, we started noticing disused Victorian bathhouses all over the city. (All ripe for conversion into galleries...)

Pop into Mary Mary, where there is a show devoted to Gerda Scheepers. (Mary Mary represents Karla Black, whom Scotland is fielding at next year's Venice Biennale.) Next door, Ten Til Ten (aka young curator Lindsey Hanlon, whose day job's at The Modern Institute) has mounted a show, in an empty apartment, of Heather Cook's textile pieces. Nearby, pop into Sorcha Dallas' gallery, where Linder is showing. Linder's also doing a 13-hour performance at the Arches on Friday called The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME. (it comes to the Chisenhale in London on 10 July).

Right by the Clyde itself is Susan Philipsz's haunting sound installation, which I wrote about a few weeks ago for the Guardian's arts pages. It's even stranger and lovelier than I had imagined, taking passers-by by surprise. While you stand on the water's edge, look at the granite piles of the old railway bridge – constructed in 1878 and dismantled in the 1960s. I hadn't even noticed when I visited a few weeks back, but there's a beautiful Ian Hamilton Finlay piece (1990)an inscription in English, below which is a passage of Greek.

ALL GREATNESS STANDS FIRM IN THE STORM

TA ΓAΡ ΔΗ ΜΕΓΑΛΑ ΠΑΝΤΑ ΕΠΙΣΦΑΛΗ ΚΑI ΤΌ ΛΕΓΌΜΕΝΌΝ ΤΑ ΚΑΛΑ ΤΏΙ ΟΝΤΙ ΧΑΛΕΠΑ

Which means, "for all great things are perilous and, as it's said, beautiful things are hard". Which is from Plato's Republic. The English is a version of Heidegger's loose translation of the passage, which (so I read) he used as the conclusion of his inaugural lecture as rector of Freiburg university in 1933 (I feel this needs more research in due course, since it's mighty loose as a translation. Please let me know if you've any insight here...). (I'm indebted to Alistair Duff, who pointed out the Hamilton Finlay to me.)


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