A recent trip over to Glasgow’s GoMA has me thinking once again about all the artists flocking to or through Glasgow, yearning for a spot in one of the Weegie catapults (Weegie = short for Glaswegian) to land them in international art stardom-land, and the ones who have already made it across.
The culprit this time – the GoMA sculpture exhibition, “You, Me, Something Else” which neatly collates for us ten artists who’ve successfully been flung forward, and whose names no doubt ring familiar to any Weegie: Claire Barclay, Karla Black, Nick Evans, Alex Frost, Lorna Macintyre, James McLardy, Andrew Miller, Mary Redmond and Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan.
Just to review, as one indicator, Glasgow artists have held over 10 Turner Prize nominations starting with Ian Hamilton Finlay in 1985, and Douglas Gordon getting the whole pie in 1996. In 2009 and 2010, Lucy Skaer (nominee), Richard Wright (winner 2009) and Susan Philipsz (winner 2010) got some Turner loving, and this year Martin Boyce is up, along with Karla Black who is pulling out her mediums of choice – fake tan, glitter eyeliner, spray deodorant and lip gloss – to sway affections. Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian has repeatedly spoken of the trend towards the Glasgow crew, and even points to Karla Black as the likely winner for this year.
And let’s not forget the 1990 distinction of European Capital of Culture, bringing with it a tourism onslaught and subsequent Glasgow fan fare that’s produced just about all the tunnocks tea cake T shirts and aprons one can stomach. What’s more, the ‘cultural sector’ of Glasgow employs more workers than Glasgow’s legacy of ship building ever did in its heyday – a fact the city’s council is ever increasingly willing to admit (download the Glasgow Cultural Strategy if you’re really, really interested (yawn) ).
A friend of mine recently likened Glasgow to Jamaica. Yes, – Jamaica. He argued that the two have one very big thing in common – a disproportionate relationship between geographic scale and artistic influence. He was speaking primarily of Jamaica’s musical influence, which is also of course enormously relevant when speaking of Glasgow too (Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, and the Vaselines just to name a few). And I think Glasgow’s influence and history is similarly complex.
So what exactly has Glasgow got that continues to produce such a cadre of international art stars?
First, Glasgow’s got grit and from what I understand, used to have a lot more of it. This keeps rents low ( #1 bait to attracting artists) and brings a lack of pretentiousness -a friendly attitude towards getting on with it, however ridiculous or outlandish an idea may be. You might even say an obstinate confidence – a ‘fuck you’ stance towards anyone or any institution that says it can’t play the game. Don’t have a gallery? We’ll start one! Need buyers? Go directly to art fairs, and avoid the middle man that is London.
And lastly, there’s of course the Glasgow School of Art, its history and legacy, it’s Master of Fine Art programme and undergraduate Sculpture and Environmental Art Department that have produced many of the international climbers of the past 20 years. The school has lured students in with relatively affordable tuition costs, great faculty, and a reputation for internationally diverse programmes. And for the past twenty plus years, they’ve been reaping the benefits on the backs of their alumni.
But that’s all changing.
Just as Glasgow has started shaking its new money-maker industry (“Glasgow with Style…” oy), higher powers are getting in the way.
With changes to the UK’s education policy, tuition has sky-rocketed for nationals, and the UK Border Authority has instigated changes that severely limit which international students can enter (essentially based on how much money you bring with you into the UK) and eliminate the option to stay post graduation as an artist. All of these changes have already happened, or go into effect this year.
Whether or not up-and-coming Glasgow artists can weather the new climate remains to be seen. The next generation will have to figure out a new game plan, re-invent those catapults and strengthen that ‘fuck you’ stance.