Art Flourishes at GSA Despite Mackintosh Building Veiled in Plastic  – Clare Henry


It’s been a long time since I braved a visit to (GSA) Glasgow School of Art. Since the two tragic fires, a nightmare-burnt edifice covered in scaffolding and now shrouded in a white veil of plastic has reduced many to tears.

However, on the coldest day of the year, I saw the work of 50 practising artists who provided the school’s backbone for all students across all fine art, design, architecture, innovation, and technology disciplines.

Sixty years ago, when I first visited GSA, it was common knowledge that students often learned more from the technicians than from the lecturers. Yet technicians were few and in great demand.

ralph overill Glasgow School of art exhibition "Coalesce"
Ralph Overill Glasgow School of Art exhibition “Coalesce”

To my astonishment, 80 members of what is officially termed the Technical Support Department are now. In addition, I discovered that they are impressive in their cross-cultural skills. I expected photography to be provided by photographers and painting by painters. But photographers can show paintings, and architects cast pewter for suede and leather installations. Then there is Michael Skeen, who crosses the boundaries of painting and photography.

So I was glad to meet Annie Graham, a woodcarver who works in wood (great thistle mask ), and Daniel Fradgley, a fashion designer who presents fashion. Maria Gondek, meanwhile, gives us a technological puzzle for freezing water crystals.

Despite 50 exhibitors, the Reid Building space is complex. Large pieces do best. The show opens with a wind farm video from 2008 by Hugh Watt, plus a striking screenprint hanging of sci-fi heads by etching technician Ralph Overill. Another bright banner by letterpress printer Ruth Kirkby helps with the central gallery installation.

The main problem with this show is information. If any exhibition ever needed labels, this one does. Yes, there is a website, but even this doesn’t help explain who does what and where. For that, you have to do an old-fashioned chat. David More is working in the gallery. He is a confessed dilettante – but ask him anyway.

Chantal Balmer - textiles
Chantal Balmer – textiles

Gold stars go to textile artists Chantal Balmer and Fiona Glen in the far space. I love Giulia Lazzaro’s chairs made with recycled materials. It’s very important to HAVE a chair for the old, pregnant, or tired folk who need to sit down.

Don’t miss Isaac Wilcox’s lively Prodigal Son cartoons or Tintin Nielsen’s memorable Roladex animation. George Douglas’s ear plugs & skirting board reflect a frivolous approach. ….   

As you can see, variety flourishes. However, with great irony, the most potent works sit outside the window. The intense heat of the second 2018 fire scorched Reid’s turquoise panel facade. These are now being replaced, and glass panels bolted and bound await the installers. Due to the fire, the current approach to the Reid Gallery is dirty, depressing, and brutal.

Aaron Smyth GSA
Aaron Smyth GSA

Unfortunately, midway through the show, the Times published a piece by Richard Morrison with the headline “IS THIS THE END OF THE FINEST ART NOUVEAU BUILDING IN BRITAIN?”

Morrison writes, “Nearly every architectural expert believes it should be rebuilt as it was. But will that ever happen?” GSA’s selection of “a new architectural team to oversee the rebuilding… went embarrassingly wrong. The process had to be scrapped after the GSA admitted that, mysteriously, the “wrong outcome” had been announced. That debacle happened almost a year ago, but there’s no news about a new search for a supervising architect.

I will be amazed if the Mack is rebuilt by 2030, or indeed ever. Thus ends the life of one of Britain’s most significant buildings — consigned to oblivion partly by fire but chiefly by ineptitude.”

Every day, staff and students face the tragedy of GSA, a mere husk entombed in plastic. A decade after two fires, the lack of transparency, incompetence, mendacity and ethics of those charged with its care continues. Shame on them.

Top Photo: Installation of GSA Exhibition Photo Clare Henry

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and wk by chantal balmer at GSA
Clare Henry at GSA
Glasgow School Of Art covered with Scaffolding and Plastic
Glasgow School Of Art covered in Scaffolding and Plastic Photo: Clare Henry



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