Saturday, 2 November 2013

Rainy Day Indoor Distractions - Glasgow Exhibitions

House Style - Tramway

Lucy Skaer: Exit, Voice and Loyalty - Tramway

Release: The Koestler Exhibition for Scotland - Tramway

Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective - Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Roman Ondák: Some Thing - The Common Guild

Allan Ramsay: Portraits of the Enlightenment - Hunterian Art Gallery

Chris Johanson: Considering - The Modern Institute

Jeremy Deller: English Magic - The Modern Institute

So the weather is miserable in Glasgow this weekend, rivers of water running down the cold, grey streets. Yet again there is no Partick Thistle match on this Saturday afternoon and the weather has put me off casting an eye over a Juniors match, or even Albion Rovers vs Deveronvale in the Scottish Cup, which I half thought about for a couple of minutes. So what better distraction than a random stoat about some of the exhibitions on (indoors) in galleries around Glasgow this weekend.

Dragging the kids away from the warmth of the house we started at the Tramway, on the southside. The stuff on there is usually wacky enough to entertain the kids, even if the Hidden Garden out back was at risk of turning into a swamp today. In the first room we found House Style, a series of four short films commissions using material from the BFI institute archive. This has been plundered very effectively already by Public Service Broadcasting who are still touring with their album (Inform Educate Entertain). If you fancy trawling through this phenomenal archive, you can do it with a Glasgow library ticket at Bridgeton Library. The results on show here varied from the pompous (Travis Jeppesen's "I, An Object") to the entertaining and thought-provoking (Rob Kennedy's "What Are You Driving At?").

House Style - Tramway
Next door is a major exhibition by previous Turner Prize nominee, Lucy Skaer who plays with ideas of memory, representing or abstracting things from the real world. You enter via a recreation of the corridor she used to walk down on the way to her studio in New York. Afterwards these ideas are played out in film, print and sculpture - stretching from the worn steps of her childhood home to casts of pre-historic axeheads and images created from the Guardian newspaper's printing plates. My kids' favourite were the ceramics laid out on the floor of the exhibition space as a terracotta army.

Lucy Skaer - Tramway
Upstairs in the Tramway there is the return of the annual exhibition of artworks by inmates of Scotland's prisons, Release: The Koestler Exhibition for Scotland. This always presents an interesting and varied body of work including painting and drawings, sculpture, music, video and some excellent poetry.

The imagination and originality on display in the Tramway exhibitions was what we found completely absent in the basement of Kelvingrove Art Gallery, where Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective chunters on. So many of his images are very familiar from posters, tea towels and greetings cards but seeing room after room after room of them really brings home the banality of it all. They are also much smaller in the flesh than I expected. My 11 year old son, unbidden, asked "Why have all the ladies got hardly any clothes on?". Quite.  If you like the styling of Downtown Abbey, but think that the women are all a bit over-dressed, then this is the exhibition for you. The only painting which made me pause in front of it was a rather sheepish self-portrait. Beyond that I'd save your £5 and have a coffee and some scones upstairs.
An Allan Ramsay selfie
At the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, showing what it is possible to achieve when painting people, look no further than the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University. To mark the 300th anniversary of his birth, they have an exhibition of portraits by Allan Ramsay, entitled Portraits of the Enlightenment (I think that the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh also have an exhibition of his work on just now). Born in Edinburgh he travelled to London and Italy to learn his craft and became painter to the court of George III. The portraits on show here include a surprising number of women, painted as real and intelligent people with real stories to tell (and all of their clothes on) such as Flora MacDonald and Frances Boscawen. In that sense he also encapsulated the times, whether painting surgeon William Hunter, Jean-Jacques Rousseau or the Duke of Argyll. Each portrait makes you feel very much as if you are coming face to face with the real person, none moreso than in his self-portraits.
Roman Ondak
Still raining so it was time to head back towards town via Park Circus and The Common Guild. They have a free exhibition (and they often offer you tea and biscuits too) by Slovakian Roman Ondák there at present (titled "Some Thing"). Much like Lucy Skaer above, he plays with ideas of memory and interpreting reality as many of the pieces show paintings or drawing he did as a teenager 30 years ago, alongside (or interacting) with the original objects from the still life. We all enjoyed that one.

Then finally off to Parnie Street to The Modern Institute to see what they had on. Downstairs is a selection of paintings and constructions by American artist and musician Chris Johanson ("Considering"). Well, considering the fun, childlike style of it, I found it hard to get any humour or engagement with much of this stuff although I did quite like the flimsy structures down the middle of the room, Glasgow windows apparently.

What did keep me from dashing back into the deluge though was the small selection of stuff upstairs by Jeremy Deller ("English Magic"). Deller brought his inflatable, bouncy Stonehenge to Glasgow last year. The highlight here is the light hearted and shambolic "Procession", a film of a project he did through the streets of Manchester in 2009, a parade of the most odd, the most wonderful and the most normal local groups. All human life was there, from football mascots to "unrepentent smokers". Worth catching if you want to feel a warm glow. Like his Stonehenge bouncy castle, his stuff is fun and engaging, but has further depths, for example the simple signs on the wall presenting song lyrices in the style of fluorescent posters outside a church. Sean Ryder's words are funny seen like this, but you can also ponder whether musicians are taken as prophets, or whether churches extract the best lines from folk tales, presented full of portent, to tell a different story. Then heading home I kept going over other songs in my head, to pick out my texts. The best I managed was "Do the dog, not the donkey." Terry ch6 v1.

Sign by Jeremy Deller
In the end Albion Rovers won 1-0 and I did miss seeing a (Partick Thistle on loan player) Mark McGuigan goal there in Coatbridge. Ah, well. Another time.

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