The Turner Prize Comes to Glasgow

Sarah Munro led the successful bid for the Turner Prize to come to Glasgow – she discusses the continuing importance of the prize to the city

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 20 Sep 2015

As of the first of next month, the Turner Prize comes to Glasgow. Every second year, it uproots itself from London and heads on the road. This is only the Prize’s third outing, although it’s now an established condition of the exhibition that every two years it will be held outside London. Last time it was in Derry in 2013, and before that in the BALTIC in Gateshead, where Glasgow Life's Head of Art Sarah Munro will take her place as new Director in November. Munro was central to Glasgow’s successful bid for the Prize, and explains why it was deservedly selected and offers potential legacy for Scotland.

“Because of the power of the brand… it brings with it an opportunity for far greater visibility and public engagement.” Taking this beyond citywide limits, the Travelling Gallery project will mount a Turner-themed exhibition of past winners and shortlisted artists. As a second moment of decentralisation from London to Glasgow, the Travel Project will take the work of artists like Ciara Phillips, David Shrigley and Ian Hamilton Finlay “to places and audiences across Scotland.” Will taking Turner Prizers to remote villages actually be a valuable enterprise? For Munro, it’s an experiment, and an attempt to “challenge the presentation and reception of the Prize.”

While Munro is appreciative of the Turner Prize coming to Glasgow, she doesn’t seem to ascribe to the idea that the names and dates of Glasgow’s Turner Prize nominations and winners is the most accurate narrative of the city’s development. “The context is much more layered,” she says. She cites the mainstream press’s beginning to take notice of artists like Douglas Gordon, when a whole new generation of artists had emerged already – from Michael Fullerton, Sara Barker and Corin Sworn, to Nick Evans, Laura Aldridge and Mick Peter. Similarly, Transmission’s the usual example of the DIY Glasgow scene, but it’s a bit of overdetermination to isolate it from Munro’s suggestions of other important venues: “Washington Garcia, David Dale, SWG3, Old Hairdressers, Queen's Park Railway, Glue Factory.”

With Glasgow venues and key figures being discussed, and its third place in the Turner Prize’s tour of cities outside of London, the question of a transposable Glasgow model arises. “It’s always simplistic to talk about models in a literal reductive A+B=C way. The conditions that enable talent to thrive are not something that relies on the unique waters of the Clyde. However, there is a rich community and fabric to the city.” Present key curatorial personalities are also important for Munro, who names Sarah McCrory (Glasgow International), Remco de Blaaj (CCA), Kitty Anderson (The Common Guild), Paul Pieroni (GoMA), Claire Jackson (Tramway) and Kyla McDonald (Glasgow Sculpture Studios) as examples of the dynamic characters constructing challenging programmes in the city's galleries.

Glasgow may have cheap rentals, available studio space, exciting galleries and new curatorial characters “that ensure we never let complacency set in.” What it doesn’t have is a single Glasgow-based nominee in the 2015 shortlist. There aren't even any old graduates of the GSA in there – which made up three of last year’s four. “People keep asking if I think it’s a ‘bad thing’ that there are no Glasgow artists taking part. I don’t. I think it would have been an impossible pressure on any artist from the city,” says Munro. Rumours abound of a deliberate exclusion by the selection committee. Nevertheless, nominees ASSEMBLE completed a project in Dalmarnock and Janice Kerbel’s nominated work was originally hosted by the Mitchell Library and commissioned by Glasgow’s Common Guild. While the Prize coming to Glasgow is for Munro “an amazing achievement,” a new dash in its Turner timeline, “in truth the Turner Prize and those artists associated with it don’t really tell the full story.”

The Turner Prize exhibition opens in Tramway on 1 Oct. The ceremony takes place 7 Dec