New art gallery bears Spalding’s mark

Glasgow galleries director Julian Spalding proclaims ‘art for the people’ as the new modern art gallery prepares to open it doors. But is this policy good for art itself, asks Susanna Beaumont.

While the wine and vol-au-vcnts are on order for the opening of Glasgow‘s Gallery of Modern Art later this month. many in Scotland's art community are voicing public and private criticism ofthe city's first gallery devoted to a permanent display of modern art.

in the former Sterling's Library just off Glasgow‘s George Square. which has been converted at a cost of over £7 million. the Gallery of Modern Art. or GOMA as it has already been dubbed. has been thrust to the forefront of a debate on contemporary art. At its centre is Julian Spalding. director of Glasgow‘s Museums and Galleries.

Controversy has been stirred by Spalding's views on contemporary art. reflected in both the acquisitions policy for the new gallery and his accompanying essay Art For The l’t’np/r’. It‘s an impassioned polemic. in which Spalding proclaims ‘the importance of the personal experience in art‘.

‘Traditional art particularly painting. can say more than modern media. and will have more to say in the future.‘ he writes. in turn. Spalding‘s selection ofart works by living Scottish. Western and non-Western artists. has been criticised for presenting a too narrow and unchallenging picture of contemporary art. Naturally he disagrees.

Spalding is a man of missionary-like conviction. He arrived in Glasgow in [989 froru Manchester City Art Galleries; before that he was acting director at the National Museum of Labour History in Liverpool. which no doubt appealed to the City Council‘s socialist leanings.

The new galleries director immediately set about lobbying for an acquisitions budget to buy contemporary art. Joining forces with council leader Pat Lally. he hatched plans in 1990 to create a new gallery of modern art. Pinning his populist colours to the mast. Spalding is now becoming known as the man who commissioned Beryl Cook. a painter famous for her cartoonish pictures ofchubby ladies.

Yet Spalding makes no apologises for allowing his personal tastes to colour GOMA‘s acquisitions policy. He believes that many gallery curators and art dealers have become slaves to. and manipulators of. a new art establishment the avant garde.

Beryl Cook’s painting ‘Karaoke’ inspired by a visit to Glasgow’s Horseshoe Bar, and (left) galleries director Julian Spalding

Yet Glasgow-based artist Ken Currie. whose work is on show at GOMA. believes Spalding‘s sanitised version of modern art has failed to show the best in contemporary Scottish and European art. ‘Art has got to be gritty and challenging.‘ said Currie. ‘lt's not

just about a pleasurable experience on a Sunday


Currie also argues against what he sees as the growing polarisation of galleries. lfGOMA is failing to show a balance of contemporary art. he likewise feels that Glasgow's Transmission and Tramway venues at the forefront in showing conceptual art are also guilty of pursuing a too narrow exhibitions agenda. "There's a danger of ghetto-ising artists galleries should have a more pluralist approach to art.‘ he added.

But the opening of GOMA just as the cash-strapped new city council is born. is itself a loud statement in Glasgow‘s continuing commitment to the visual arts. ()ccupying a prime city centre site. the new gallery asserts the importance placed on art in Glasgow. GOMA will also provide the missing link between Kelvingrove and the more cutting-edge art venues.

Yet Spalding‘s vision of modern art. while trumpeted as populist. arguany does not adequately reflect the cut and thrust ofconternporary art. Charles Esche. visual arts co-ordinator at Tramway. welcomes the arrival of GOMA. but wonders about the relentless egalitarianisrn that seems to underpin every civic foray into the world ofculture in Glasgow. ‘We have to ask what art for the people actually means.‘ he said.

h'leanwhile seven venues in Edinburgh are currently hosting the much hyped and talked about British Art Show. Spalding is determined to avoid commenting on a show which highlights conceptual art and appears to fall within his description of the New Establishment.

The exhibitions themselves have drawn record- breaking crowds. suggesting Spalding may be underestimating the public‘s appetite for challenging work. ‘The public is far more intelligent and discerning than they're given credit for.‘ said Paul Nesbitt. organiser of the B.A.S. Nesbitt feels that a wealth of new art is being created in Scotland. and GOMA should acknowledge this.

Work by Glasgow—based artists Douglas Gordon. Julie Roberts and Christine Borland. all exhibitors in B.A.S. and fast gaining an international reputation. is not represented at GOMA. This seems like an oversight. as the price tag on their work continues to rise and may already be beyond GOMA's modest annual purchase budget of 125.000.

However it is perhaps too easy to criticise Spalding. As Adrian Wiszniewski. another Glasgow artist whose work is on display at GOMA. says: ‘He would be criticised for whatever he did. But at least a gallery is opening. \V' have to wait and see how the collection shapes up over the years.‘

One thing is certain; as issues surrounding the merit and meaning of contemporary art continue to touch a nationwide nerve. Spalding can be relied on to continue giving that nerve a good old tweak.

The Gallery ()me/el'n Art ope/Is In [/18 public in Glusgmr' on Saturday 30 IWUIY'II.

which talks of an ‘occultural

And finally . . . artists raise gallery wile Pistols raise cash

If flying pigs are generally regarded as an unlikely occurance. how about art galleries? An organisation calling itself START the Society For The Termination Of Art faxed an unsigned press release to The List warning of its plans to ‘levitate' the new gallery of modern art in Glasgow to ‘highlight the cultural imperialism


conspiracy‘ linking the secret society. the lllurninati. Glasgow‘s |9th century tobacco lords and the Stock Exchange. Rangers football club is about the only organisation not linked to the conspiracy. Must have been an

The plan to ‘levitate' the gallery is to be executed at midnight tomorrow (Friday). The above article suggests

The press conference to announce the much-rumoured comeback was held. appropriately. at London‘s 100 Club. a tiny venue which must have a 5000 capacity if everyone who claims to be at the band‘s notorious first major gig is to be believed. Lydon. sporting designer bondage gear. spent most of the launch calling for a glass of Dubonnet. as befits a man of advancing years.

behind the council‘s £3 million investment‘.

This is not the first time the gallery has been the target of an intervention aiming to debunk the art world. Last year the K Foundation screened its film of the burning of£l million in used notes on J ura to construction workers converting the gallery‘s interior.

This link between art and cash is also the theme underlying START‘s protest.

there may be some in Glasgow who believe gallery director Julian Spalding is full of hot air. but whether that‘s enough to raise the building off its foundations remains to be seen. Talking of bollocks. you may. if you wish. welcome the return of those anarchic scamsters. the Sex Pistols. The original punks of '76 are reforming and the emphasis is unashamedly on the cash, with the unsubtle line ‘Never

John lydon: old punks never die

Mind The Sex Pistols, Here‘s The Filthy Lucre‘. The only sure thing about the reunion. according to Johnny Lydon nee Rotten. is that the band‘s former manager Malcolm McLaren won‘t be getting his hands on any of it. though ‘he‘ll probably try'.

The other originals Steve Cook. Paul Jones and Glen Matlock looked more like former members of Mud than iconoclastic punks. according to our correspondent. The Pistols play London's Finsbury Park and the SECC. Glasgow before heading off to tour the US. but as Lydon said: ‘We‘ll probably be beating the crap out ofeach other within three minutes of going on stage.‘ (Eddie Gibb)

The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996 5