Arts explosion heads to Glasgow as curtain falls on Edinburgh fringe

By Culture24 Staff | 03 September 2009
A picture of builders inside a steel structure

(Above) The new £74 million Riverside Museum in Glasgow. © Culture and Sport

The banks of the river Clyde are used to tremorous noise. They've spent centuries hearing battleships and transport tankers rumble past, and vessels the size of islands stand docked, looming over the rush of the parallel motorway.

Today, the reverberating sound is of welding steel, fashioned by workmen poised on the wave-shaped roof of the newest addition to a waterfront loaded with landmarks.

A £74 million home for the Museum of Transport, whose current arena lies a ten-minute stroll away, the Riverside Museum is on course (and on budget) to allow the 345,000 fans its predecessor welcomed last year to replace the builders by 2011.

A picture of a building site from above

Situated on the banks of the River Clyde, the wave-shaped building will triple the space for the transport trove. © BAM.Hawkeye

Three times more boats, cars, trains and planes will fit inside, but the symbolism of this hall of haulage stretches beyond gleaming glass. At a time when funding bodies seem to be flitting between heightened urgency and chastened despondency, the Riverside is part of a cluster of genuinely exciting, council-backed investments popping up around Scotland's largest city, and they want us to know about it.

It's the middle of August, and the entire arts world seems to have descended on the Edinburgh fringe, but Glasgow's marketing chiefs haven't sat and sulked – instead, they've cunningly invited all manner of media to take a day out from the cultural melee and head up the road.

A picture of a building site from above

The development is on course for completion in 2011. © BAM.Hawkeye

You might reasonably question their apparent confidence and expect a ghost town, but from the off there's an air of edge to Glasgow, subtly eclipsing the certain artifice of their rival city, where archaic buildings and haughty academia linger behind the temporary throng of thespians.

The signs opening out from the station say it all – this is the home of Scottish Opera, The National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Ballet and more, a city which spawned Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Glasvegas, Rangers and Celtic.

A picture of a brown castle-style building

Kelvingrove. © Glasgow City Council

Kelvingrove towers in the sunshine atop a bank, and is magnificent inside. Cameras in the vast halls reveal the intricate skill of the resident historic organ grinder, and the spacious, tactile rooms whirling through the corridors around them lend a sense of imposition to the place. Until you reach the Doctor Who exhibition downstairs, where kids are gleefully zapping neon noises at Daleks in caverns painted black.

Back in the city centre, the Gallery of Modern Art dispenses with the neoclassic splendour of Glasgow's architectural infrastructure as soon as you step past the statue of the Duke of Wellington outside.

a colourful sculptural amalgam of chairs and handbags in a gallery

Work by Scottish artist Jim Lambie at the Gallery of Modern Art. © the artist / Keith Hunter

There's a terrifically taboo-busting show on the top floor called Shout, where Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Sunil Gupta and friends are portraying drag queens, LGBT history and pop-art icons with some explicit imagery that forcibly enhances the dizzying effect of the staircase climb required to reach them.

Downstairs, a Contemporary Collection has work by the likes of local Turner Prize nominee Lucy Skaer, whilst Echo and Transcend pits abstract sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi and Anthony Caro against paintings by Bridget Riley and Alan Davie.

A picture of a light, empty space at the top of a building

Trongate 103 is a new artistic playground on the fashionable east side of the city

The place is alive with people and ideas, but it's about to get a new rival in those stakes. We head to Trongate 103, a new "arts resource" in a former Edwardian warehouse on the trendy east side of the city. Here a cluster of arty types have been populating former commercial and industrial spaces since the decline of the Merchant City the area was known as in the 1970s.

In a bid to preserve this productive arts quarter, the City Council began consulting with some of those fraternities in early 2002, and eight groups will take over the space when it opens in September.

A picture of a plan of a futuristic building

The foyer of Trongate 103

On the ground floor, the Russian Cultural Centre have draped a café in red, and the long-established Glasgow Print Studio are setting up a new space for tuition, showcases and sales.

The organisers behind Project Ability – a visual arts team who provide programmes for people with disabilities and mental health issues – are visibly excited about the custom-designed floor they'll inherit with the new building. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, who moved to Glasgow from St Petersburg 13 years ago, are moulding their eerie amalgamations of theatre and sculpture behind doors obscured by craftsmen and technicians.

A picture of a figurine set against a blue-lit background

Russian group Sharmanka will bring their theatrical kinetic sculptures to the new development. © Robin Mitchell

It's the artist studios which could prove the most prolific, though. Glasgow Independent Studio have scored a network of cubicles on the fifth floor; airy rooms any artist would give their non-creative arm for. Light streams in, boxes and plimsolls already strewn across several of the dorms.

Upstairs, Glasgow Media Access Centre have notched similarly promising hubs for their independent film-making, training and production schemes, but these groups won't be confined to their low-rent spaces.

If the opening programme of music, talks, performances, workshops and exhibitions scheduled for September is anything to go by, Trongate will benefit the public as much as it will its residents.

The vibrancy feels omnipresent, not least because of the number of galleries and museums you encounter on the way back. Once it opens, the buzz should be inescapable.

Trongate 103 opens on the weekend of September 12 2009. Visit the project online for full programme details.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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