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The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art

The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art

Donna Dailey - 2007-12-14

Glaswegians are known for their irreverent sense of humour. After all, they gave us comedian Billy Connolly. So it was no great surprise to approach the elegant building which houses Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art and find the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington out front decorated with orange-striped traffic cones.

'The city tries to take them down every now and then,' a local friend told me. 'But within a fortnight someone always puts them back up again in the dark of night.' With the cones now a semi-permanent (if unofficial) fixture, the statue is a fitting symbol for the gallery itself: a happy juxtaposition of modern media against classical tradition.
 
The Gallery of Modern Art is housed in the former home of one of Glasgow's richest tobacco lords - William Cunninghame - who built the mansion in 1778. As the area changed from a residential to business district, it was sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland, and later to a consortium of city magistrates who transformed it into the Royal Exchange.
 
They commissioned the building's neo-classical features: a towering Corinthian portico at the front, an impressive hall at the rear, and a clock tower. Inside, the new business hall on the ground floor sported majestic Corinthian columns rising to a barrel-vaulted coffered ceiling.
 
Opened in 1827, the Royal Exchange was the centre of Glasgow's business community for more than a hundred years. It traded in tobacco, sugar, rum, coal, iron and shipping. The statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse (sans the cone hat) was erected in 1844. After World War II, the building served as a library before being renovated as an art gallery in the 1990s.
 
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art then opened here to great acclaim in 1996. Today it is one of the top venues for contemporary art in the country, specialising in the work of artists from 1950 to the present day. Both British and foreign artists are represented, including many who have achieved international acclaim. They work across a range of media - photography, video, mobile and installation art and even painting and sculpture.
 
The gallery has won awards for its reconditioning of an historic building for modern use. The imposing columns of the main hall on the ground floor form a splendid backdrop for the gallery's exhibitions. The sense of soaring space particularly enhances the larger sculptures and installations. Details of the original mansion remain in the elliptical atrium, with its lovely skylight and plaster work, and surrounding walkways which form small galleries on each of its three storeys.
 
The first and second-floor galleries display works on rotation from the permanent collection. On show for my visit were vibrant paintings by Bridget Riley, wood sculptures by Victor Vasarely and Margaret Mellis, sketches and photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Aboriginal dot paintings and wood cuts by South Korean artist Hong Song Dam. Other artists frequently represented include Beryl Cook, Peter Howson and Andy Goldsworthy.
 
Gallery of Modern Art
Royal Exchange Square
Glasgow,
G1 3AH
Phone: 0141 229 1996

Glaswegians are known for their irreverent sense of humour. After all, they gave us comedian Billy Connolly. So it was no great surprise to approach the elegant building which houses Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art and find the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington out front decorated with orange-striped traffic cones.

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