If you’re an up-and-coming artist, you’d do much worse than to move to Glasgow. It’s relatively affordable, big enough to ensure career opportunities – and man, all that history.
The illustrious Glasgow School of Art has certainly redefined how we see Scotland’s second city. The number of Turner Prize winners (and nominees) it pumps out is staggering. And amid the ruins, the disaster-stricken Mackintosh Building is still one of the most revered Glasgow attractions.
So on your visit, between the myriad other amazing things to do, pay homage to the city’s creative brilliance at one of the best art galleries in Glasgow. With collections that rival some of the world’s very best, and with significant input from the many accomplished graduates that stick around, these institutions aren’t to be missed.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best museums in Glasgow
Best art galleries in Glasgow
A perfect example of Glasgow’s internationally renowned contribution to contemporary art, The Modern Institute was once described by Art Review magazine as ‘a model for galleries around the world’. It has hosted and helped nurture some impressive names across the last 25 years. They include several Turner Prize nominees from the Glasgow scene (including Jim Lambie, Cathy Wilkes and Luke Fowler) and several Turner Prize winners too (including Richard Wright, Simon Starling and Martin Boyce).
A properly cavernous Southside space that has hosted loads of major international exhibitions over the years, including the 2015 Turner Prize. Recent exhibitions have included visceral, surreal sculptures by Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu, which blur the lines between human, creature and object. She exhibited her new works here in early 2019 before taking them to the Venice Biennale.
The Lighthouse’s stated intention is to be ‘a beacon for the creative industries in Scotland’. Past exhibitions have included a study of rare and unseen aerial footage of 20th-century factories, shipyards, mills and ironworks titled ‘Britain From Above: Scotland’s Industrial Might’, and the Glasgow School of Art Graduate Degree Show. The permanent Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, or ‘Mack’ Centre, celebrates the life and work of one of Glasgow’s most famous sons.
It was a bunch of graduates from the world famous Glasgow School of Art who, frustrated by the perceived lack of opportunities available to new young artists to showcase their work in the city at that time, took over this old property on the corner of the Tron Gate and King Street in the Merchant City. The list of names to have sat on the gallery’s voluntary committee over more than three decades now reads like a who’s who of the last 30 years of the Glasgow contemporary art scene.
It was in 1996 that Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) became Glasgow’s foremost centre for contemporary art, housing not just extensive gallery space but also educational facilities. GoMA exists to showcase not just the work of the city’s greatest artistic talents (including several Turner Prize success stories), but also to highlight what those artists share in common with others around the world in terms of influences and practices.
Faith is the story of Glasgow in many ways. How appropriate, then, that the city should be home to one of the only public museums in the world devoted solely to the subject of religion. Three permanent galleries host a vast array of ancient artefacts and artworks. You can learn about the main religions of the West of Scotland (Catholicism and Protestantism, not football), visit a Zen garden, admire a sculpture showing Islamic calligraphy, or marvel at a magnificent bronze carving of the Hindu god Shiva Nataraja.
The Burrell Collection is a vast assortment of more than 8,000 objects gifted to Glasgow in 1944 by Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). A fabulously wealthy Scottish shipping merchant and philanthropist with a taste for antiques and fine art, Burrell had a personal gallery that was one of the greatest ever amassed by a single individual. It included many important examples of late medieval art, Chinese and Islamic art, and pieces from ancient civilizations.
One of the first points on the dial of the East End’s current bout of arts-led regeneration, promoting the work of emerging British and international artists. Danish sculptor and installation artist Rolf Nowotny’s installation ‘Dementia’ was a recent hit.
Spread across three floors, Glasgow Print Studio (GPS) comprises workshops, education space and other facilities, as well as a retail gallery on the ground floor, leading up to a main gallery on the first floor. An artist-run charitable organisation supported by Creative Scotland and Glasgow City Council, the studio’s purpose is to encourage and promote the practice of contemporary and innovative printmaking, from etchings and lithographs to relief prints and screenprints.
A non-profit arts space and (as of late 2018) host to the Glasgow Zine Library. In March each year, the spring residency rolls into the space. Previous exhibitors have included Hayley Dawson, Cameron Mackay and Hanna Tuulikki.
A magnificent and imposing mass of red sandstone and gothic-looking spires, Kelvingrove is Glasgow’s finest museum – and arguably Scotland’s too. The collection contains more than 8,000 pieces, which range from one of Europe’s greatest displays of civic art to a Supermarine Spitfire suspended dramatically from the ceiling. Its collection also includes works from Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Van Gogh, and it also hosts regular temporary exhibitions.
A sprawling, multi-storied warehouse space in the Speirs Locks area of north-west Glasgow above the Forth and Clyde Canal, The Glue Factory (no prizes for guessing what this place used to be in the industrial city of yesteryear) represents the achievements of a new, young generation of artists breaking through on the Glasgow scene. Behind a crumbling gray roughcast exterior, The Glue Factory’s maze-like interior of desolately beautiful spaces have become blank canvases for all kinds of inspired ideas.
It’s taken a long time to find its flow, but Glasgow’s CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts, to give it its full title) is now more vibrant than ever. Established in 1992 on the former site of boho multimedia arts space the Third Eye Centre, it’s a highly ambitious construction of old stone cut through with new metal. The CCA curates six major exhibitions a year, starring both national and international contemporary artists.
In May 2014, when a fire ripped through Glasgow School of Art’s historic century-old main building, art and architecture lovers the world over held their breath, fearful this iconic structure was about to be lost for ever. But thanks to some heroic work by firefighters, against the odds the vast majority of it was saved and disaster averted, with the exception principally of the beautiful Mackintosh Library, which was completely destroyed. In June 2018, however, another fire broke out in the Mackintosh Building and the £49 million restoration project was put on hold. Sadly, the future of the entire structure is now in question.
The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum, housing one of the largest collections outside of the country’s national offerings. Named after pioneering obstetrician, teacher and passionate hoarder Dr William Hunter (1718-1783), it sits in the heart of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s neo-Gothic University of Glasgow building, and its treasures proudly reflect the university’s long and rich history of discovery, research and innovation.
A main tenant of the Trongate 103 facility, one of the key hubs for Glasgow’s creative community, Street Level Photoworks closely followed its long-standing neighbour Glasgow Print Studio in setting-up here in 1989.