Artist-run Glasgow

Carol Rhodes, Two Buildings, 2012, oil on board, 15 by 17 inches.


Glasgow is famous for artist-run spaces and grassroots initiatives that have been launching and sustaining careers for at least three decades. The classic example is Transmission gallery, born out of frustration at the almost total lack of exhibition opportunities in Scotland back then. It was established in 1983 with minimal Arts Council funding and empty real estate from the city council. It continues today as a non-profit collective with a regularly changing committee, an annual members’ show and a program of solo and group exhibitions combining the local and international. Early Transmission committees featured many names still central to Glasgow’s art world, including curator Malcolm Dixon (founder of the left-wing Variant magazine and now director of the photography gallery Street Level), film maker Doug Aubrey, theorist Billy Clark and artists Christine Borland, Douglas Gordon, Carol Rhodes, Claire Barclay and Richard Walker. Through changes of venue and fallow patches, Transmission manages periodic self-renewal (while clinging to paste-and-photocopy mailings that by now are pure nostalgia). The present committee includes Darren Rhymes, Emilia Muller-Ginorio and Hannes Hellström. The current show, by L.A. artist Jennifer Moon, mixing printed matter, installation, photography and archived documents, resonates with a lot of recent art in Glasgow in its esthetic, and its mix of the subjective and the political.

Of course Transmission, and Glasgow’s artist-led scene in general, are not new news. Ten years ago now, art writer Sarah Lowndes published Social Sculpture: The Rise of the Glasgow Art Scene, based on her doctoral thesis about artists’ initiatives in the city. A new edition (Luath Press, Edinburgh) brought the account more up to date in 2010. But despite the longevity of Transmission and other spaces, things change fast. Lowndes might soon need to write a whole new volume. Pop-up ventures pop up, then pop, or morph or multiply into other enterprises. Co-ops have become commercial galleries, either thriving, surviving or eventually throwing in the towel. Movers and shakers come and go. New generations of graduates constantly filter into the system via Glasgow School of Art and elsewhere (many from continental Europe, Scandinavia, the States, and recently a lot from Canada). Studio shows, temporary galleries in empty commercial premises, ad-hoc exhibitions and semi-informal salons in people’s apartments–all these happen in amazing abundance here. The city’s music scene, as Lowndes’ book stresses, constitutes a sister network, with clubs, cafe-bars, rehearsal spaces and concert venues where visual and conceptual and performance art are also part of the mix. (I recently went to the Glad Cafe on the south side, to see artist Lucy Stein create painterly projections over the explosively improvised drumming of Alex Neilson and baritone sax of Sybren Renema.) Also shading into Glasgow’s fine art milieu are cottage industries of graphic and product design and “alt-couture.” And all this is cross-pollinated by publications, journals of creative and critical writing, artist’s books, zines and ephemera of all kinds, distributed at several niche outlets across town. Notably there’s Aye-Aye Books, run by Martin Vincent at the Centre for Contemporary Art, and Good Press, located next to hip record store Monorail (within the much-loved vegan café-bar Mono).

Bits of support for all this activity come from an intermittently sympathetic city council, and grants from the arts administration body Creative Scotland (formerly the Scottish Arts Council). But funding is often meager and the criteria for awarding it are frequently dubious. The best efforts rely on the energy and inventiveness of individuals and the proverbial shoestring budget. So venues open and close, and things evolve. One legendary location of recent memory is a towering Art Deco building just south of the Clyde known as Chateau. It was a regular gig of the GSA-nurtured Franz Ferdinand and other bands; home for a while to independent fashion house Che Camille; scene of rooftop barbecues, impromptu studio exhibitions, film screenings and art soirées. Until one night when (miraculously without human casualty) the stairwell collapsed. The place has been closed ever since, but its denizens forge on elsewhere.

A related venture in the last decade was Switchspace, a peripatetic exhibition program that showcased, among many others, Ilana Halperin, David Sherry and Mick Peters. It was run by artist Marianne Greated and fellow GSA graduate Sorcha Dallas. The latter then ran her own commercial gallery up to 2011, showing artists including Alex Pollard, Kate Davis, Charlie Hammond and Craig Mulholland. (Dallas now works on individual projects, and still represents veteran Glasgow artist and writer Alasdair Gray.)

Another outfit that at least until a couple of years ago would periodically resurface in various flats, railway arches and empty shop spaces was Washington Garcia. This gallery brought in out-of-town figures, like U.S. performance and video artist Kalup Linzy, offering him an edgier forum than, say, New Territories, the city’s annual (sometimes pretentious and politically correct) festival of “live art.” Washington Garcia organizer Kendall Koppe now runs a commercial gallery that is one of the most positive recent developments on the Glasgow art horizon.

When it comes to artist-run exhibition spaces happening right now in the city, the best I can hope to offer is brief profiles of not necessarily the top 10, but 10 that seem to have a current buzz. The desert of 1983 has, in 30 years, turned into a jungle. One needs a machete of sharp critical judgemnt to cut one’s way through the art shown in Glasgow in any given month. But here’s a sketched map of the terrain.

The Old Hairdressers is a city-center bar that first opened for the 2010 Glasgow International, the city’s contemporary art biennial. Artists Tony Swain, Raydale Dower and Rob Churm hosted a neo-Dada cabaret of bands, experimental music, performance and readings, with work by Glasgow artists ‘round the walls. Since then it’s become established as one of the city’s art-and-music bars. (The same proprietor runs Stereo, a music venue, pub and vegetarian cafe across the lane, plus Mono and The 78, in the east and west ends of town respectively.) For last year’s GI, Rob Churm and others editioned Prawn’s Pee, a daily tabloid of words and images that gradually covered the walls. Exhibitions and events continue, including a regular audio arts evening called Light Out Listening.

David Dale Gallery. A former technical college building in a Brooklyn-ish light industrial zone in the east end. A good daylit gallery space with studios above, run by a three-artist board. There are short artists’ residencies, with associated shows. In the three or so years of its existence it has racked up around 20 exhibitions. Guest curators sometimes take the reins and the program is still maybe finding its feet. A recent show exposed Marzia Rossi’s drapings, dustings and daubings of abject or ephemeral materials, uncomfortably close to local girl Karla Black (who had emerged 10 years ago through venues like Chateau and Switchspace). As I write, the current show brings together Danish artist Ditte Gantriis with French-Canadian Marie-Michelle Deschamps.

Market Gallery occupies a couple of newly built concrete-block storefronts on Duke Street, a semi-bohemian east end neighborhood. It has a six-strong directors board and a six-member ‘rolling’ committee–which sounds admin-heavy, but the feel of the place is no-frills and energetic. There are artist’s film screenings, performances, and regular residencies. The most recent resident was Helen Shaddock, an installation and book artist (who runs, with Harald Turek, the annual Glasgow artists’ book fair). Her show is on as I write–fragmentary compositions of sherbety color and material, seemingly free of (or wearing more lightly) the ideological freight of much Glasgow art.

Glasgow Project Room. Established in 1997, the Project Room is attached to Glasgow Independent Studios, one of several alternatives to the biggest studio provider, WASPS (Workshop and Artists’ Studio Provision Scotland). WASPS also has exhibition spaces in its various buildings, but somehow shows there don’t seem to command the attention that the Project Room does. Quite established artists will propose shows here, as well as young emerging ones. Exhibitions are usually short–an opening night and a few days’ run. Independent Studios and the Project Room were caught up in a recent city regeneration scheme that sought to refurbish and ‘showcase’ the arts ventures in the area (also including Transmission, Street Level Photoworks and Glasgow Print Studio). The dangers of a corporatized ‘culture hub’ are obvious, but the Project Room has kept its credibility in the new, rather institutional space. Tom Varley recently showed sound work, painting, printed fabric and small collages with very long titles.

SWG3. Again, studios with a gallery and events venue attached; it’s been going for around five years. West of the city center, it’s a tall warehouse squeezed in close to the river, the motorway and the railway tracks (commuter trains rattle by at second-floor level). Craig Mulholland installed an ambitious mixed-media show here a year ago called Dust Never Settles, seeking, as the press release perhaps mischievously said, to ‘foreground and heighten the corporeal effects of increasing information noise relative to virtual and concrete labour, within the context of indoctrination.’ More recently Jocelyn Villemont and Camille Houezec (both from France, Glasgow MFA alumni) curated Last Chance–eight Glasgow artists exposing works that, for whatever reason, they had hitherto been afraid to show. (Note the assumption that nowadays, in Glasgow at least, if an artist does want to show a work, there will always be place to do so.)

Southside Gallery. Formerly called The Fridge, this gallery, attached to one of Glasgow’s smaller but more active studio complexes, has sometimes been programmed by guest curators. Filmmaker Gregor Johnstone mounted a series of shows putting newer names with established ones, and I was honored to be one of his more ’emerged’ artists, showing two paintings alongside a Tom Varley video and collage constructions by Andrew Taylor. The space then was small, but the most dazzlingly bright white cube imaginable. Artist Ben Walker (whose studio it also was, between shows) created the environment as a Robert Irwin-like minimalist exercise. His practice has since been moving more towards architecture proper, and the gallery is now in a timber polyhedric pod constructed at the rear of the building. The next event, with Dominic Snyder and Penny Chiva, promises to straddle dance and visual art.

The Duchy. So named because it’s on Duke Street (at the city center end, not close to Market Gallery). This is a small two-room shop with a window on the street and a tiny office just big enough to serve the beers from at openings. It punches way above its weight in terms of attention. For the 2012 Glasgow International the Duchy’s sprawling group show extended into a large space in the middle of town–a slightly moribund contemporary design museum called the Lighthouse. (It’s a peculiarity of Glasgow that the lively grass-roots infrastructure sometimes contrasts with a lack of focus and energy in the more mainstream arts venues.) The Duchy often shows recent GSA graduates, but more senior figures will exhibit here too. Tony Swain hung work alongside Andrew Black at the end of last year. Ross Sinclair, veteran of the ’90s Glasgow art boom, showed there recently (and launched an album). Up next is Glasgow-trained painter Zara Idleson.

Verge. This place is so new it’s impossible to tell what its profile will be. It’s in a district way out west, Govan, where the last of the shipyards are still running. Yet again, it’s a studio collective (Glasgow Artist Studios) that has set up the space, taking over a local community cafe-gallery. They’ve had a few shows, mostly featuring artists from the studios. Recently “in residence” there were four artists– Gwenan Davies, Jon Thomson, John Nicol and Carla Novi–working together on narrative, towards an April exhibition titled “Cough ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” Davies has also been active recently with various collective ‘home shows’ under the rubric Gwenan International (in parody of the much vaunted Glasgow International).

Intermedia. This one specifically supports Glasgow-based artists, and it’s funded by the city, giving a small grant for each show selected from open submissions. Founded back in 1992, it moved a few years ago from King Street (close to Street Level and Transmission) when that location started to get a civic face-lift. Now it has a space at the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Art) and like Aye-Aye books, also there, it’s given the place a shot in the arm. The gallery is much smaller than the CCA’s own, but the shows can sometimes have more urgency. A recent one was “21 Revolutions,” celebrating the Glasgow Women’s Library–another of the city’s crucial artist-founded institutions. Coming up at Intermedia this spring is “Routine Investigations,” a two-hander with the ubiquitous Mimi Deschamps along with British-Canadian painter Justin Stephens (both of whom until recently helped run the notable art space Rez de Chaussée.)

OI-IIO. This venture (pronounced Ohio) by artists Rachal Bradley and Matthew Richardson has so far taken the form of short exhibitions at their west end apartment (187 Wilton Street). They are about to move it to a town center location. Bradley and Richardson were conspicuous among a particularly ambitious MFA cohort in Glasgow graduating in 2012 with a memorable exhibition at a cavernous space called the Glue Factory. So far projects at OHIO have featured, among others, Hannah Sawtell, Milly Thompson, Gordon Schmitt, Keith Farquhar and Lucy Stein. One aspect of the Glagsow scene is a certain cross-generational impulse, as opposed to a cult of the young, and most recently OHIO previewed, ahead of a London solo show, five paintings by Carol Rhodes.