A guide to current exhibits.
2020 hasn’t been particularly kind to the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Following speculation of closure in January, the doors, along with galleries up and down the country, were forced shut in March when the national lockdown was imposed. Following over six months of closure, it was announced that it would reopen to the public from Monday 5 October. With visitors required to book a free time slot online and capacity significantly reduced, it offers a unique experience to wander round an almost empty gallery. I headed into town on a brisk Saturday morning to check out the new normal at GoMA.
In terms of the new visitor experience, not much has changed. Art galleries, especially smaller ones like GoMA which doesn’t normally attract huge crowds, tend to lend themselves quite naturally towards social distancing. Apart from having to wear a mask, the only noticeable difference is floor markings to direct you round a one-way system. Headphones for multimedia works have been removed creating a strange background blur, but this doesn’t seem to cause much bother.
In typical Glaswegian fashion the gallery attendants were extremely friendly and happy to share their thoughts. One explained that she thought “people don't know what they miss until it's gone” and that the gallery was now attracting “new visitors with more appreciation for the gallery and a genuine interest in the artwork”.
There seemed to be a sense of hope that people are now appreciating the visual arts more, perhaps due to increased awareness of the potential damage that could be done to the cultural sector in these times. However, with the café, shop and library closed, and visitors required to pre book time slots, they’re missing out on passers-by popping in for a quick look round. This also raises concerns over financial viability with these revenue streams closed and a dwindling council budget.
The current flagship exhibition, Domestic Bliss questions the narrative of domestic bliss; exploring themes of feminism, public and private spaces, and socio-political change. It also looks at the building’s history as a home of the tobacco merchant William Cunninghame, which is particularly poignant in today’s climate. Over the course of lockdown GoMA, with help from the Frieze Rapid Response Fund, acquired three works to display in this exhibition (two paintings and one neon work) by the Glaswegian artist Rabiya Choudry.
Choudry is known for her darkly humorous, surreal, autobiographical paintings which explore contemporary society and cultural displacement from her point of view as a Scottish-Pakistani artist. Her works are visually striking, and she cites “psychedelic art, comic book art, album cover art, song lyrics, voodoo and folk art, b-movie film posters and cartoons” as some of her influences. The two acquired paintings House for the Holly and Dream Baby Dream (both 2016), previously shown at her solo exhibition COCO!NUTS! at Transmission, look at themes of racism, fear, hope and anxiety. Despite being four years old they couldn’t be more relevant today. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement the emotions explored in these works are felt by many.
Other works currently on display include Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics and Other Major Works. A combination of text and photography examines the urban gay male culture of San
Francisco in the late 70s, in a humorous and at times banal way. The slightly dated TASTE! exhibition shows some of the most popular works from the collection, including works by Hockney and Warhol, displayed alongside archival material to explore the history of the collection and curatorial practices. GoMA is also taking part in the Photoworks festival in a box initiative which invites the recipient to become the curator and display the work as they please. This includes work by Glasgow based artist Alberta Whittle, taken in the very room it’s displayed in.
Every day we are reminded of the precarious position that the arts and cultural sector are currently in. Glasgow is blessed with a plethora of arts and cultural venues. Whilst live performance venues remain shut, GoMA is very much open. Although it may not have the same reputation as the national collections in Edinburgh or London it is still well worth a visit to get your cultural fix.
GoMA is currently open 11-4, 7 days a week. Free e-tickets can be reserved online at https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/venues/gallery-of-modern-art-goma