Blog: Art Fund International

  • 12 June 2012
  • By Ben Harman
  • Curator of Contemporary Art, Glasgow Museums

In the second part of his blog, curator Ben Harman writes about the contemporary art scene in Glasgow...

Ben Harman, Curator of Contemporary Art for Glasgow Museums

Ben Harman is a Curator of Contemporary Art for Glasgow Museums. Based at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA), he is one of two curators responsible for GoMA’s programme of temporary exhibitions and the fine art collections of Glasgow Museums dating from 1960 to the present day. Since 2007 Ben has been Lead Curator on Glasgow’s Art Fund International project which, a £1 million collecting partnership between GoMA and the Common Guild, Glasgow.

A world-class centre for contemporary art

Scotland has a wealth of locations offering world-class presentations of contemporary art. From Dumfries to Thurso, Edinburgh to Orkney, spectacular projects are taking place, largely as a result of passionate individuals who are determined to make things happen against increasingly difficult financial odds. In recent years the public awareness of Glasgow in particular as a city renowned for the contemporary artists that live and work here has significantly increased.

There are numerous, well-voiced arguments and historical precedents pointing to the reasons why Glasgow rivals London or Berlin as a centre for contemporary art but undoubtedly the people to credit for this reputation are the artists themselves, from recent art school graduates to Turner Prize winners. Most recently in Glasgow this was exemplified by the array of world-class contributions to the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.

Karla Black's exhibition in GoMA's ground floor gallery © Ruth Clark, 2012

One of the many achievements of this year’s festival was that it illustrated the global level on which artists living and working here are operating and the extent to which they share influences and working methods with artists from Athens, Copenhagen, Berlin, or Los Angeles. GoMA’s own contribution to the festival, continuing until 24 June, formed part of the Director’s programme. It is a generous and sensory exhibition of sculpture by Karla Black, intuitively created for our neo-classical ground floor gallery space.

Tales of the city

Karla is a good example of a Glasgow-based, but truly international, artist with a growing reputation and track record of working with major galleries and museums around the world. Over the last month my main focus has been the delivery of a series of exhibitions that aim to illustrate the broader geographic context for such artists. Namely the work of their peers and influences based outside the UK that GoMA has been acquiring, in partnership with the Common Guild, under AFI.

Tales of the City: Art Fund International and the GoMA collection is a series of four exhibitions that began in December last year and will culminate on 20th July with the final stage of these building-wide displays. The project demonstrates how AFI has completely transformed our collection.

Works by David Shrigley and Jo Spence waiting to be installed

This week I’ve been working on the installation of one of the Tales of the City exhibitions. Installing is the most fun and rewarding part of my job. Without exception I never fail to be surprised by the new and unpredictable relationships that appear when seemingly disparate objects are unpacked and placed together. I never would’ve presumed, for example, that a drawing of a head by the artist David Shrigley would resonate so strongly with a self-portrait by the pioneering photographer Jo Spence.

Placed together these works offer interesting variations of contemporary portraiture as well as poignant examples of black humour - something that was so important to Spence, working in the shadow of an illness that led to her death.

Charlotte Wolff

A handprint poster, with the signature of Alberto Giacometti, by Hans-Peter Feldmann © Hans-Peter Feldmann

I’m pleased to say that what Tales of the City might lack from featuring fewer female than male artists seems to be counterbalanced by the strong representation of pioneering women as the subject of artworks. These vary from Jo Spence to more historic people such as the suffragette Christabel Pankhurst who is the figure in a beautiful printed and hand-drawn work by Kate Davis.

Most ‘present’ of all in the exhibition is the psychologist, writer and chirologist (hand-reader) Charlotte Wolff (1897-1986), whose remarkable life is the subject of one of our AFI acquisitions made in 2008: the video installation Everything I Need by the New York-based artist Matthew Buckingham.

A happy coincidence led to us acquiring another work inspired by her in 2010: Handprint Posters by the Düsseldorf-based artist Hans-Peter Feldmann. This work uses Wolff’s notebooks from the 1930s as source material. In these she kept prints from the hands of celebrated artistic figures which she would later study, publishing the results.

Feldmann has scanned and printed ten larger than life prints which offer us an unconventional and playful insight into figures associated with Surrealism, one of the most influential and important movements of the 20th century.

Tales of the City: Art Fund International and the GoMA collection is open 7 June 2012 - 24 February 2013 at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA).

Read the first part of Ben Harman's blog.

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