Sculpture in the City: Glasgow

by Katrina M. Brown, Director, the Common Guild, Glasgow Scotland

This May, Nasher Prize Dialogues will present a discussion in Glasgow, Scotland. Hosted in partnership with the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and The Common Guild, one of Glasgow’s foremost visual art spaces, the talk will be centered on the role of appropriation and issues of copyright within contemporary sculptural practice. Katrina Brown, director of the Common Guild and one of the U.K.’s brightest curatorial lights, will moderate the conversation. Here for The Nasher, Brown gives a brief primer on the famously influential Glasgow art scene.

It’s nigh on impossible to avoid sculpture in Glasgow. It peppers the city’s skyline on the rooftops of some of its most prominent buildings. Known worldwide for the truly extraordinary Glasgow School of Art building by Charles Rennie Macintosh (which is currently closed for restoration after a major fire in 2014), Glasgow benefits from the broader architectural legacy of the city’s considerable wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Laudable as much of its architecture may be, many of these buildings are the product of the ill-gotten gains of the so-called “tobacco lords” whose wealth was predicated on the slave trade, a history that is only recently being addressed. Many, but not all. The building illustrated (right) is in fact the former headquarters of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, built in 1893 and part of Glasgow’s more socially responsible history with the labor movement. The sculpture, Light and Life, was remade in 2017 and overlooks the city from the south of the River Clyde.

Nowadays, Glasgow is of course also widely known for its contemporary art scene and as home to many artists, including a significant clutch of Turner Prize winners and others with substantial, international careers, such as Cathy Wilkes, currently subject of a major retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York. A network of galleries and artist-run spaces in the city have supported many a nascent career, along with some good production facilities that include dedicated provision for sculpture at Glasgow Sculpture Studios.

One of the great things about the city’s main contemporary art event, Glasgow International Festival, which takes place in alternate years, is that it takes us into many of these buildings, some known and some unknown, some well-established art venues and others called into service for the purpose of temporary exhibitions and projects just for the Festival. The riverside walkway was home to Susan Philipsz’s Lowlands in 2010 – adjacent to a permanent work by the late Ian Hamilton Finlay: a text carved in 1990 into a remaining pier of a long-gone bridge, which reads “All greatness stands firm in the storm.”

The 2018 Festival, which runs from April 20 – May 7, will see a typical range of spaces brought into play, from major museums to artist-run spaces and temporary interventions in non-art spaces. Sculpture in its widest sense has tended to feature strongly in the program and 2018 is no exception. At The Common Guild, we will be presenting a solo show by Paris-based Katinka Bock, whose sculptural work often incorporates processes of alteration, or the effects of transition from one space to another. Other major shows include a new solo project by Mark Leckey in the main, cavernous, postindustrial space of Tramway, while The Modern Institute will be showing new work by Urs Fischer.

Alongside such international artists, there are several opportunities to see the work of Glasgow-based artists in some interesting places: Lauren Gault and Sarah Rose will be making work for a section of the Forth and Clyde Canal; elsewhere there will be new work by Mick Peter; and Centre for Contemporary Arts will present a show by Ross Birrell, whose wonderful Athens–Kassel Ride: The Transit of Herme — a work that involved five horses being ridden from Athens to Kassel—featured in documenta 14.

Another great building—Govan Town Hall, built in 1897-1901 —will play home to an ambitious film work by Glasgow-based theatre director Graham Eatough and artist Stephen Sutcliffe. The building, once at the heart of the city’s prosperous ship-building industry, is now a hub for film production facilities. Eatough and Sutcliffe’s two-part film No End to Enderby was co-commissioned in 2016 with Manchester International Festival and the Whitworth, marking the 100th birthday of Manchester-born writer and author of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess. It muses on artistic legacy and is complex, smart, strange, and witty.

Across town, English artist Linder will be working with the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library. Described as “the central general information resource about and for women in Glasgow,” GWL was established in 1991 in a tiny shop unit around the corner from the art school and has now grown to occupy its own dedicated space in a former public library, which also happens to be just a few minutes’ walk from the always-interesting David Dale Gallery.

One of the highlights of the Festival, and sure to be one of the most visually exciting projects, will be an exhibition by Lubaina Himid, with new work conceived for the grand, central hall of the City’s principal public museum: Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, a late Victorian extravaganza of a building and home to the City’s considerable collections, from Ancient Egypt, to 19th-century French painting. Himid, winner of the the 2017 Turner Prize, celebrates and explores Black history and identity in paintings, prints, drawings, and installations, which often involve near life-size, painted cut-out figures that surround the viewer. It promises to be a fitting and exhilarating fusion of the city’s architectural heritage with engaging contemporary art.

Experience Nasher Prize Dialogues: Glasgow on May 2 at the Trades Hall of Glasgow. Learn more about Nasher Prize programs.