In the third installment of his blog, curator Ben Harman talks Loch Ness and the latest exhibition at GoMA...
On 20 July GoMA opened the final stage of the four-part exhibition Tales of the City: Art Fund International and the GoMA collection. This display places new acquisitions, from artists based outside the UK, side-by-side with objects from our UK collections. It celebrates the ‘conversations’ that artworks from around the world have as a result of the shared interests, influences and working methods of artists from places as varied as Amsterdam, Glasgow, Los Angeles, Palestine and Zagreb.
Fiona Tan, Disorient, 2009
© Fiona Tan. Courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London. Photo: Ruth Clark
Tales of the City is the first re-display of the entire GoMA building since it opened in 1996 and it is fitting that this milestone in our exhibition history has been marked with the launch of Disorient by the Amsterdam-based artist Fiona Tan. Made in 2009 for Tan’s solo presentation at the Venice Biennale, this two-screen video installation is the most spectacular artwork purchased for GoMA through AFI and one of the highlights of our entire collection.
Cinematic in scale, the work absorbs the viewer with beautifully rich images of the Orient accompanied by a soundtrack consisting of a narrated reading from writings attributed to the 13th-century explorer Marco Polo. Disorient seems to challenge our assumptions towards parts of the world that we may only know through second-hand experience or television footage. It encourages us to contemplate the post-colonial relationship between the East and the West via references to commerce, religion and war and presents us with disorienting contemporary and historical accounts.
Incident at Loch Ness
The impact of AFI on our collection has been immediate but it will also be lasting. Amongst other things GoMA has had encouraging conversations with institutions wanting to borrow acquisitions to be presented in other parts of the UK. Following Tales of the City there will also be many future presentations of artworks that we have purchased but not yet presented in GoMA’s galleries.
Of these I am most looking forward to our first display of three artworks by the Dublin-based artist Gerard Byrne. We acquired these at the end of last year and have begun plans to exhibit them in the next 12–18 months. Unusual as it may seem, I was reminded of the work when several British newspapers recently carried a story (accompanied by photographic ‘evidence’) of a sighting of a mysterious shape in the waters of Loch Ness.
The works that we have acquired by Byrne are from a large series, called Case Study: Loch Ness, that he began in 2001. Central to the acquisition is a projected 35mm film that combines scenes from Loch Ness with a voiceover listing some of the many alleged sightings of a creature in the waters of the loch. Accompanying the film are two framed photographs and a glass vitrine containing wooden ‘forms’. These works provide contextual material that seems to attempt a rational explanation for the unusual eye witness reports, for example, the suggestion that a swimmer’s arm could be mistaken for a monster’s head.
Gerard Byrne, Untitled (from the Case Study: Loch Ness series), 2001-
© Gerard Byrne
Cleverly, the works in this series are organised and presented in a way that deliberately evokes the seminal language of early Conceptual Art such as that pioneered by European or North American artists in the 1960s. The result is an unlikely marriage between our obsession with a mythical creature in Scotland and one of the most important and influential periods in the history of modern and contemporary art.
Tales of the City coincides with the final months of Glasgow’s AFI collecting project that started in 2007. Together with our partners, The Common Guild, we have acquired more than 30 spectacular artworks that have transformed the City of Glasgow’s Contemporary Art Collection. Excitingly, we have more to come with funds remaining in our £1 million budget and a few months left to spend it.
As with the four other AFI projects throughout the UK we are now faced with the question of what happens next. Importantly, we are determined to continue our partnership and find a way to keep collecting art from outside the UK. This will no doubt be encouraged and supported by the Art Fund. In these economic times it seems more important than ever for museums to have budgets to make acquisitions. Collecting is the lifeblood of a museum and it is vital that acquisitions budgets don’t become as elusive as creatures in Loch Ness, here one minute and gone the next.
Tales of the City: Art Fund International and the GoMA collection is open now at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA) and runs in its entirety until October.