IT’S hard to imagine a more urban setting than Market, the artist-led space in Glasgow’s East End that has graced a row of Dennistoun shop fronts for well over a decade. It’s not grit or grunge so much as blank anonymity.
At Land - Market Gallery, Glasgow
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Martin Boyce: All Over Again And Again - The Modern Institute, Glasgow
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The gallery’s steel shutters and concrete aesthetic are pure utility. So there seems a pleasing unlikelihood about Market’s new painting exhibition, At Land, which is largely devoted to the art of landscape painting. Until, that is, you grasp that there’s an urban edge, or sometimes just an edge to the art on show.
Whilst exclusively devoted to artists who studied in the city, the range of names is pleasingly diverse: Lindsey Maclean has just graduated from Glasgow School of Art, the late Steven Campbell was one of its most famous figures. The show is curated by John Kellock, a recent painting graduate who in 2011 won The Hunt Medal, an award for students showing “poetic creativity” supported by the Steven Campbell Trust and named after one of the enigmatic characters who cropped up in his paintings.
Campbell’s works are the mighty ballast in At Land, but describing them all as landscapes might be pushing the boat out a bit too far. Two untitled acrylics on paper equate the physical landscape with horror and psychodrama: one features a sinister ruined broch and what looks like some unpleasantness on a patterned rug. The other is an enigmatic history painting inspired by Mary Queen of Scots, featuring a seascape, a wooden vessel and an unfurling scroll featuring some of the castles and palaces that were the settings for the most dramatic of lives. The final Campbell work is a piece of ephemera from the remnants of a much larger installation from the 1980s: three masculine heads, painted on what look like stuffed sport socks. They are melancholy, absurd things. Landscapes no, but a reminder of Campbell’s humour inventiveness and unfettered creativity.
The rest of the show moves between registers of subtlety, like Maclean’s enigmatic little hillscapes viewed from the lofty heights of Garnethill and painted scratchily onto scraps of cardboard and Katrin Jaberg’s hallucinatory wee watercolours to more muscular fare. Marianne Greated’s The Wheel seems to suggest the engineering behind Falkirk’s most famous landmark and might be seen as a kind of comic sexual metaphor.
Balancing the heavyweight presence of Steven Campbell is Carol Rhodes. Airport Hotel and Airport is one of my favourite of her paintings from the 1990s, a bleached-out, denuded, peripheral place: a vision of the landscape as all arteries and no flesh.
At Land also traces a meandering and subtle trajectory of the usual story of Glasgow’s artist-led scene, which is often erroneously associated with a rejection of the painterly and an embrace of all things conceptual. Helen Flockhart, for example, is more likely to be found these days in galleries like Compass or at the Royal Scottish Academy, but she was amongst the artists involved in Transmission, showing there in its early days in the mid-1980s. Marianne Greated teaches at Glasgow School of Art and was a founder of the project Switchspace with Sorcha Dallas who went on to found her eponymous commercial gallery. Carol Rhodes is a celebrated painter who with her partner, the artist Merlin James, runs an occasional exhibition space at 42 Carlton Place.
Though virtually empty of people At Land doesn’t forget that people and politics shape the city. Alastair Strachan’s dizzy aerial view of George Square, during its notorious red tarmac phase, looks like a place where action and imagination has fled and been replaced with empty gestures.
The cityscape is inspiration too across at the Modern Institute. The former glass factory at Aird’s Lane, which serves as the gallery’s second exhibition space, is showing new work by Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce. The anonymous brick building, with its double height gallery, provides a slightly grungier, more experimental space for artists and it’s a rewarding setting for a romantic show by Boyce that emphasises the artfully faded and the rusting, all set in a kind of blank urban twilight after the lamplit gloaming of his recent works.
The show’s title, All Over Again and Again, is a reference to its restaging of elements of a recent New York show, but also to the fact that Boyce crafts his melancholy art from a tight set of references, working and reworking themes until they become his exclusive sculptural vocabulary.
As is often the case with Boyce, the gallery has been transformed into part abandoned garden, part blockaded interior, but there’s a renewed bleakness to the polished concrete table that serves as a centrepiece to the show. There’s a return of the real anxiety, the urban paranoia that fed his art in the earliest days.
A series of recent wall works use jesmonite casting to echo the shuttered concrete that gave the modern city its distinctive, and at times brutal texture. A broken door is artfully crafted from mdf and veneer to look as though it were a found object.
To my mind these small works, framed in steel and hung on the wall, are too tricksy around materials and too uncertain in a kind of emulation of paintings to sit quite comfortably with the best of Boyce’s art but the ceiling mounted mobiles and spindly sculptures, and the overall atmosphere are marvellous.
Where once Boyce’s works were illuminated from above by fluorescent fitting resembling angular trees, now tumbling and rusting chains form weeping willows.
In one corner, bony, white steel is shaped to echo abandoned garden furniture: a table and upturned chairs. But if you catch these works from the corner of your eye, you become convinced of a human presence. The urban landscape may be abandoned but it is never quite empty.
At Land runs until 16 August, All Over Again and Again until 31 August.