View of “Glasgow International.” Left and center: Lawrence Lek, QE3, 2016. Right: Sheila Hicks, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016. Photo: Ruth Clark.

View of “Glasgow International.” Left and center: Lawrence Lek, QE3, 2016. Right: Sheila Hicks, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016. Photo: Ruth Clark.

Glasgow International

Various Venues

View of “Glasgow International.” Left and center: Lawrence Lek, QE3, 2016. Right: Sheila Hicks, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016. Photo: Ruth Clark.

Spread across more than seventy-five locations and fifty live performances, featuring work by 220 artists from thirty-three countries, the seventh edition of the Glasgow International—the second helmed by Sarah McCrory—lived up to its name as a biennial that is at once both deeply local and ambitiously international. This year’s commissioned Director’s Programme was organized around what McCrory described as “the legacy of industry and the relationship artists have to making, production, and craft.” Given Glasgow’s historical transformation from industrial powerhouse to postindustrial shell, and its more recent reemergence as an important center of artistic and cultural production, this might initially seem an overly capacious rubric, but it proved an apt lens through which to consider a wide range of artistic engagements with the city’s spaces and their histories. Unstated in the official literature but also noteworthy was a welcome focus on female artists, with women accounting for nine of the twelve artists included in the Director’s Programme.

At Tramway, a contemporary art center housed within a vast, repurposed tram factory and depot, McCrory installed a group show featuring Alexandra Bircken, Sheila Hicks, Lawrence Lek, Mika Rottenberg, and Amie Siegel, their works framed by an exhibition design by Martin Boyce and McCrory. Here, Bircken’s elegiac sculptures in reclaimed steel took the form of makeshift trolleys, their metal wheels fitted into the now-useless network of tracks that still crisscross the pavement of the gallery floor. Nearby, Hicks had stuffed the tracks with thick cords of her signature brightly colored fabric. Had her heroic, multicolored tower Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016, sprouted from the steel and concrete floor? Or was it extending outward, taking over the space like a chromatically exuberant invasive species? Lek’s digital video QE3, 2016, simulates a final voyage of the QE2 ocean liner, built in the Clydebank shipyards in the 1960s and moored in Dubai since 2008. In Lek’s imagining, this hulking bit of industrial patrimony sets sail once more, returning home to take up residence as a new home for the Glasgow School of Art, whose landmark Mackintosh building was badly damaged in a 2014 fire. Like Amie Siegel’s showstopping film installation Provenance, 2013, QE3 raises important questions about the art world’s often uncritical assimilation, appropriation, or celebration of objects and spaces whose use value to industry has passed. Siegel’s film traces the very real histories of objects as they follow the currents of the international antiques trade. In the film, pieces of utilitarian furniture designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret make their way from the luxury homes of present-day collectors back through time, through auction sales rooms and restorers’ studios and shipping warehouses, ultimately reaching port in their ambitious modernist project for the Indian city of Chandigarh.

A hallmark of the biennial is the degree to which it blurs the boundaries between proper institutional venues, smaller nonprofit outfits, temporary interventions in derelict civic spaces, provisional artist-run projects, and professional commercial galleries. For the nonlocal, this scavenger-hunt aspect of the festival, while exhausting and inherently resistant to efforts to “see it all,” nevertheless forces the visitor off the beaten path and out into the city. On the east side, Sol Calero had transformed the nonprofit David Dale Gallery into the functioning set for a telenovela, Desde el Jardín (From the Garden), written with Dafna Maimon, and filmed in the days preceding the exhibition by Conglomerate, the Berlin-based collective of which Calero is a member. Across town, the scrappy SWG3 gallery presented an exhibition of trippy, open-ended 1970 and ’80s video experiments by California-based artist and filmmaker Don Levy (1932–1987).

At their occasional exhibition space at 42 Carlton Place, artists Carol Rhodes and Merlin James staged a concise introduction to the American cult artist Louis Michel Eilshemius (1864–1941). “Discovered” and championed by none other than Marcel Duchamp, his eccentric oeuvre carries with it an unimpeachable avant-garde pedigree yet sits outside the historical narrative of modernism. Presented here as an antecedent to such contemporary concerns as kitsch, de-skilling, “bad painting,” and outsider vernaculars, Eilshemius’s appearance is illuminating, but it also highlights the need for historical specificity in constructing artist genealogies.

Jacob Proctor