Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Glasgow International 2014, Quick Review

I was looking forward to the return of the Glasgow International festival this year, after it being such an entertaining and engaging event two years ago. Sadly, however, I have found very few of the exhibits in this year's Glasgow International to be particularly relevant, engaging, interesting or thought provoking in any way whatsoever. Many times the idea behind the exhibits are so cryptic and pretentious that the festival guide reads like the Pseuds Corner world cup event qualifying, the navel-gazing round perhaps.

I like a lot of modern art. I particularly enjoy it when it elicits some kind of response, whether it is sadness, disgust, happiness, memories, laughter or even just admiration for the skill or technique on display. Artists should be part of the real world and can engage with events, politics, life, injustices, etc. On spending a couple of days catching up on things at various venues this year the most common emotion it created was disappointment. So much of it seemed cobbled together, cheap, pointless or pretentious. It seemed to be occurring in another reality where there is no national debate on whether Glasgow should be part of a new country, where there is no politics or emotion or engagement. It feels very petty. The real world seems not to have touched many of the things on show, they are happening in a bubble removed from anything I could connect with.

So what did I like?

  • Counterflows is an annual event in Glasgow of experimental and contemporary music. This year it was included under the umbrella of Glasgow International and was a resounding success. (Review here)
"The Colours of the Palestinian Flag" by Khaled Hourani
  • Khaled Hourani is a Palestinian artist who has work on display at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. Some of the work reflects the surreal nature of current events in Palestine with works here commenting on the Palestinian winner of "Arab Idol", donkeys painted as zebras in a Gaza zoo and a photo of a Picasso painting on display in Palestine. I didn't even notice the Picasso at the centre of the photo until I read the title, so distracted was I by the guards in the forefront. Every piece is stimulating, thought provoking and double edged.
Aleksandra Domanovic's work at GOMA
  • Aleksandra Domanovic's work is on show in the main hall at the Gallery of Modern Art. The Berlin based artist has filled the hall with huge celluloid screens with images from sci-fi films, reflecting the inferior roles women are often given in science fiction literature and films. The punchline comes on the last panel where a letter to a woman applying as an artist in the Disney studios is reproduced, showing where a woman's place is in that world. 

  • Reclaimed-The Second Life of Sculpture is an exhibition in the main hall at the Briggait. You could put an ice cream van on display and I would come in to see it as I just enjoy getting into this building where my great-great granny used to have a fish stall. This exhibition displays sculptures held in long term storage and raises questions about fashions in art and when it becomes disposable. Much of the exhibits on at other venues in Glasgow International give weight to the argument that there is plenty of sculpture out there that should have by-passed the galleries and gone straight into storage. A treat for any Glaswegian is seeing the "love it or loathe it" sculpture Spirit of Kentigern that used to sit at the bottom of Buchanan Street on display. I always thought it was meant to be a whale's tail until I read this week that it is actually representing the bird that never flew. Who knew?
  • Bricolage at The Pipe Factory. An interesting collection of stuff in an interesting building.

So what was mildly distracting?

  • At the Modern Institute Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rosseti, Stefan Tcherepnin have changed the frontage to resemble a ghost train, whilst the inside has become a sort of carpetted corridor. Ten out of ten for effort.
  • Gabriel Kuri at The Common Guild has made a colourful and interesting collection of sculptures, which make more sense once you flick through his book whilst going around (this was a recurring problem, exhibitions with no gallery staff helping to explain things or not raising their faces out of their iPhones to engage with you or with no leaflets left). The staff at The Common Guild and Modern Institute were very helpful, chatty and engaging as always.
Henrik Patzke at Project Ability
Work by Gareth Moore at Glasgow Sculpture Studios
  • Canadian sculptor Gareth Moore shows the products of his three month residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, drawing from the surroundings with discarded materials from the adjacent Forth and Clyde Canal and clay dug from local claypits.
Le Swimming at Fleming House
  • Also interesting, although maybe a bit unevenly executed, was Le Swimming in the disused underground car park under a shabby modernist building, Fleming House, in the city centre. It was quite witty and made a good point about the lack of such non-commercial amenities in the city centre and the folly of the construction of these buildings 
  • At David Dale Gallery in Bridgeton Claudia Comte has a collection of interesting sculptures, and top marks for venue goes to those behind Baldachini  under one of the arches on Cleland Lane by the Citizens Theatre.

So what was rubbish?

  • Well, following on from the point made about the lack of public amenities in Glasgow city centre I was keen to see inside the old Govanhill Baths, closed several years ago by Glasgow City Council but trying to find a second life as a community resource. It is meant to be home to a collection of inflatables (LOVE) by Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne but on the two days I tried to go I wasn't allowed in to see the building, because one of the inflatables had a leak. I really feel I could have mustered the imaginative powers to conceive the exhibition in all its glory without the full display but was told I wasn't getting in. Poor show. 
  • Kling Klang, an installation at Queen's Park Train Station was impossible to fathom. Were the two turned off electric guitars meant to be the "open access electronic music studio" promised in the programme?
  • The McLellan Galleries building was more impressive to see then any of the four exhibitions therein. Photocopies of an artist's genitals, video installations akin to many pop videos complete with someone shagging the pavement. I've got a bit tired of exhibitions where the attendants stop you at the door to say " might not want to take your children in there..."
  • Hydrapangea at the Botanic Gardens and Simon Martin at Kelvingrove sounded good on paper, but in reality were unengaging. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Botanics were both mobbed during the school holidays when I was in them, but the bland video installations in both were completely ignored by everyone. They were making no connection with their surroundings or the visitors to them who were all walking past. Both exhibitions were overwhelmed by their settings. This seemed particularly ironic in Simon Martin's case as the description claimed he was paying "attention to the relationship between viewer and artefact".
  • Gymnasia was full of ideas that sounded better than its actual execution, as were another pile of exhibitions I could mention, but won't.
  • Welshman Bedwyr Williams and America's Michael Smith have video installations at Tramway, the former in the main hall given a creepy twist with an abandoned coach illuminating the darkened main hall. However both seemed in thrall to TV and not unlike too many well known shows or similar characters I know drawn as roundly in comics I've read. Both were entertaining but there are a lot of videos on show in the festival. These installations come over as cheap and easy enough to dispatch to festivals around the world, but the world watches these things on YouTube, on their phones and tablets these days. It just often feels too disposable.
  • Sometimes getting access to buildings housing the exhibits was more worthwhile than the exhibits they held. SWG3 have a couple of disjointed exhibitions on in the studio spaces in the top floor there. It was nice to get to see the huge space up there but I would have been disappointed if I had climbed the stairs hoping to find a hidden artistic gem. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the new Glasgow Art School building in Garnethill. It was great to see inside the new building and to use Michael Stumpf's exhibition across the road as an excuse to re-visit the Mackintosh Building.
Atelier Public #2 takes over a floor at GoMA
  • Atelier Public #2 at GoMA? Is this really the best use of the space, recreate a children's play area in a shopping mall, but give the public less art materials than you'd get in one of these places.


The Glasgow International 2014 festival seemed incredibly bitty and disjointed. There were too many videos and exhibitions which seemed to lack a curator's touch or any point to them. Some of the favourite things which I saw were not part of the festival, such as the new art school building and Martin Boyce's glasswork in its entrance or Iain Hamilton Finlay's exhibition of prints in the GOMA. These displayed more wit, skill and bite than so much of the stuff that is in the festival. However it is all free, there is tons more that I haven't managed to see yet. I just think it requires more of a guiding hand than it seems to have, or maybe that just costs more money.

Martin Boyce's glasswork in the foyer of the new Reid Building at the Art School 

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