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The new Scottish colourists

Charles Rennie Mackintosh spattered with paint, a diamond forged in the UK riots, and a bouncy Stonehenge: Adrian Searle has a ball in Glasgow

'Make art so bad they turn away from it, turn back to life," wrote the US artist Paul Thek in one of his notebooks. There's a lesson there, but it's a strategy that could easily backfire. Thek's sketchbooks and drawings fill vitrine after vitrine at the Modern Institute in Glasgow. You could spend all day poring over them, with their landscape watercolours and drawings, bits of bodies, Christ as an erect penis, pages of poems, thoughts on art and religious sentiment. Thek died in 1988. Having been a leading – if not cult – figure in US art in the 1960s and 70s, he ended up disillusioned and marginalised, but clung on to art even as Aids claimed him. His posthumous career is only now gaining ground.

This quiet, essentially archival show is the most surprising thing in this year's Glasgow Festival of Visual Art, though Wolfgang Tillmans at the Common Guild is captivating, too. Displayed in casually elegant arrays, in odd corners and on the stairs, Tillmans' images take us from total photographic abstraction to a tiny black-and-white image of bare trees, from a colourful closeup of a car's headlight to a portrait of an onion.

Tillmans' sense of display – the jumps in scale, the shifts in subject and focus in works that are hung high and low across the walls – echoes our own drifts in concentration. Richard Wright's drawings on paper at Kelvingrove art gallery attempt something similar. There are even some up by the air vents and over the doorways. Architectural fantasies and echoes of Islamic calligraphy, mad whorls and symmetry buried in chaos: Wright makes you wonder how he works with such feverish concentration for so many hours, days, months. Rhythm and pace hold it all together.

The same is true of a couple of shows at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. Rob Kennedy is as much curator as artist, and has insinuated weird, enigmatic films into the workshop areas and storage spaces of the CCA, as well as in the main galleries. He's even balanced monitors in piles of rubbish amassed from the dismantled walls of previous shows. Amid it all hangs a dark Walter Sickert painting from 1907, called Jack the Ripper's Bedroom. Sickert's landlady suggested the ripper might have been her previous tenant. It is a haunted, evil painting, bad enough to make you want to turn back to life, as Thek suggested – or at least go outdoors.

What I like best at the CCA is the small installation upstairs by Charlotte Prodger. A big 1970s boom-box plays Prodger's descriptions of visiting a gay club in Berlin, her thoughts on dance music (she's also a DJ), space, light and being in the world. Thek might have approved. On monitors, little films ripped from YouTube show a young man carefully cutting up trainers and swapping another pair with his boyfriend. It's all very queer: a space of dangerous liaisons, splices and cuts. It has something to do with Prodger's love-hate relationship with structuralist film-making, she says, which provides a sort of bass line to her art.

On a makeshift platform in the Mackintosh Gallery at the Glasgow School of Art, sculptures of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald, made by Dutch artist Folkert de Jong, look down on the school's plastercasts of Michelangelo's slaves, and at other De Jong sculptures. These include William of Orange and a woman dragged from the Seine in the 19th century and brought back to life.

De Jong's figures often have weird coloured splats on their faces, while their clothes are spattered with drools of quick-setting resin. The casts of Michelangelo's slaves, and of the ancient Nike of Samothrace, loom over many of his Styrofoam people with their fluorescing, noxious colour. The festive and the grim, the lively and the dead – all have their place.

At Tramway, California artist Kelly Nipper's Black Forest has live, masked dancers going through movements devised by modern dance pioneer Rudolf Laban. You want to take off your shoes and join in, or take a nap. It's a nice space to inhabit, with huge curtains and patterns everywhere. Nothing much happens. Then again, I didn't really want it to.

Up at the new Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Mexican artist Teresa Margolles talks about the murders (especially of women), drug wars and corruption that blight the city of Juárez, across the border from El Paso in Texas. Her best work is a slide show presenting photographs of Juárez in the 1970s and 80s: family events, wrestling matches, political rallies, public and private celebration. The images parade across the wall, without commentary.

Less successful is her attempt to comment on last year's UK riots. Collecting burnt detritus from the aftermath, Margolles had it turned into a diamond. It sits in a wall-mounted box. The words "A Diamond for the Crown" are carved on another wall. What links the riots with the horrors of Juárez? It's capitalism, dummy. To reinforce the point, Margolles has covered a billboard with filthy bits of sacking, stained from Mexican crime scenes. Apparently, they're soiled with blood and shit, death and dust. There is no doubting her seriousness; the obviousness of much of her work is deliberate, a punch in the gut.

Karla Black, at the Gallery of Modern Art, does her best to entertain. Swags of cellophane festoon the ground floor hall, with its high windows, ornate ceiling and Corinthian columns. This is lightness versus gravity, a foil to the building's pompous decoration. As a centrepiece, Black has installed an enormous slab of compressed sawdust, running the length of the gallery. It's like a giant mattress, or the world's biggest tiramisu, with its strata of different-coloured sawdust. There are lots of finnicky details and the magic drains away as you look. The cellophane swags would have been enough.

Time to turn back to life. Dozens of schoolkids are careening about on Jeremy Deller's full-scale inflatable Stonehenge on Glasgow Green, bouncing into and around the stones. Deller's work is a cheery take on heritage and the Cultural Olympiad. Celebratory, interactive and possibly even educational, it ticks all the public art boxes. On the other hand, Deller might be pointing out that our greatest and most solemn monuments have all become sites of entertainment nowadays. Hooray for our increasingly infantilised culture. No wonder his work is called Sacrilege, even if only druids will take offence. This is not bad art; it's life. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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