Vault: Market Shares
Against all odds, the Glasgow contemporary art scene has been flourishing since the 90s. It’s a perfectly Scottish romance: down at heel and with little prospects, Glasgow artists have nonetheless created some of the most important artworks of their generation.
To this day, Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, first shown at Tramway in 1993, is commonly regarded as a contemporary masterpiece. In every way modern, it cast off any assumptions about a supposed parochial Scottish art scene and heralded the way for a succession of notable Glasgow-based artists.
Vault, a new art event launched this month, is the most recent manifestation of this trajectory, according to its founder (along with UZ Events) freelance curator Patricia Fleming. Similar to an art fair, Vault focuses on the buying and selling of work by young and established artists and in many ways replaces the old art fair held in George Square – although it is in no way associated with its predecessor.
Fleming has watched the gradual rise of the commercial art scene in Glasgow ever since she set up Fuse – an initiative that provided young artists with a free studio and an alternative to claiming the dole – in the 90s.
“Because of the opportunities we were making for ourselves, we stopped disappearing from Glasgow and going to London,” Fleming explains. “From then on you can probably chart quite an interesting trajectory in Glasgow’s art scene. As a result of that scene, we now have some innovative commercial galleries in The Modern Institute, Sorcha Dallas and Mary Mary.”
Vault will likewise mirror this change in climate: the gradual shift from public to private finance, all the more pressing during a period of drastic arts funding cuts. In an art scene that is no longer supported by a benevolent state, artists are encouraged to think up new ways of financing their practice – and Vault is one such solution.
There will be 12 galleries showing the work of some 74 artists at Vault during the weekend of 9-11 September. Participating galleries range from the well-established Glasgow Print Studios to the youthful IRONBRATZ, offering a variety that will suit all tastes and budgets. Held at the Briggait, which was originally the city’s fish market, audiences are encouraged to come along and consider investing in a work of art or two.
“Many of those organisations are not known to the wider public,” Fleming rightly points out. “I think there is an appetite for the public to understand more about this contemporary scene that we’re getting known for nationally and internationally.”
This could not be more pertinent than now. Two of the four artists nominated for this year’s Turner Prize – Karla Black and Martin Boyce – are Glasgow-based and were both integral to the city’s grassroots art scene before going on to become big names at home and abroad.
But while there were only one or two independent organisations that helped establish the scene in the 90s, such as the artist-run space Transmission, there are now considerably more. The Mutual and IRONBRATZ are just two examples of the many non-commercial organisations currently based in Glasgow. Both of them will be taking part in Vault.
IRONBBRATZ is a studio complex in the Merchant City that houses all sorts of practitioners – jewellers, painters, photographers, writers and more besides – including painters David Jack and Graham Lister. Despite being founded only three years ago, IRONBBRATZ has since become an integral part of the Glasgow art scene. A not-for-profit organisation, it will be taking an egalitarian approach to its participation in Vault.
“Because we’re a different organisation from most of the other ones involved,” says IRONBBRATZ founding member Amanda Dobbratz, “my aim is to get as many people shown and have the opportunity to sell as possible.”
As part of their unique approach, IRONBBRATZ will set up what they have called a ‘drawing booth’. Buyers will approach members of IRONBBRATZ and commission them to make work on the spot. Prices will likewise be negotiated on an individual basis and are likely to be charged by the minute.
“It not only allows the opportunity for the artist to have a very direct relationship with a client or potential buyer,” says Dobbratz, “but also for that person to be able to engage with an artist, see them at work, have some input and feel like they’re getting something really special.”
Similarly lateral in their approach is The Mutual, an organisation originally set up to help avoid the economic restraints often encountered by developing artists. With no permanent gallery space, The Mutual is not part of the commercial Glasgow art scene and instead sees itself as an organisation that facilitates exhibitions and events.
“Vault is quite a difficult notion for us to approach,” explains The Mutual co-founder Carrie Skinner. “We’ve never made money – it’s never been part of our remit. We’re not a business and we don’t have any formal income.”
To reflect this, they are approaching Vault as they would any other project, showing work by Jenny Baynes, Jamie Clements and Oliver Braid, among others. Establishing a site-specific brief that draws on the Briggait’s mercantile history, they will reflect on how the culture industry has replaced Glasgow’s traditional industries.
What spans these disparate generations of trade and commerce, bridging the gap between the fish market of old and our contemporary art scene, is a certain entrepreneurial spirit. It is that very ability to make the most of a situation that defines Glasgow and those who make it their home.
“I think the entrepreneurial landscape in Glasgow is very strong,” says Patricia Fleming. “We have a real capacity to say ‘this is what I want to do so I’ll do it’. We’re very vision orientated.” And even where money is not the driving force, there still remains a real appetite to achieve beyond one’s means. “Many of the organisations run on little or no funding – like The Mutual. It’s all self-motivated, self-initiated, and very entrepreneurial.”
More than anything, it’s the enterprising spirit of the Glasgow art scene that’s vital to cultivate. Through collective ventures and egalitarianism, organisations such as IRONBBRATZ and The Mutual prove that artists achieve considerably more allied with their peers. Likewise, Vault is distinctly more cooperative than corporate, aware that there’s strength in numbers – and a lot more besides money.