'The Critics Choice' (Sunday Herald, 24/04/2005)
…..For the past 25 year, Barbara Kruger has toured art galleries and billboards of the world with her messages of repression and revolt. Her method has changed little, if at all, since 1980: photographic images are combined with fragments of text, often accusatory in tone. In bold red, black and white, they borrow their visual style directly from the revolutionary Soviet posters of the 1920s.
The room installation at GoMA is largely made up of existing work by Kruger, customised for the occasion with Scottish material. It’s definitely high impact: every nook and cranny of the room is plastered with bold type and enlarged newspaper stories of domestic abuse. It’s not in Kruger’s trademark red, but instead bright green: still bold, but less ferocious. The words under your feet address you in simmering disdain, and the words above your head plead with you for kindness. The pictures on the walls scream accusations at you, and the pillars bear opposing pairs of words (love/lust: fear/power) of which you can only ever see one at a time.
You are placed in a tug of war with the room itself, never escaping the power imbalance. Kruger cut her teeth at a time when language was a major preoccupation for artists and when the appropriation and repetition of images form the mass media had moved far beyond Warhol’s pop whimsy to a rigorous intellectual analysis. This almost curatorial approach has become part and parcel of contemporary art, and if Kruger’s installation seems dated, that’s because it is. If it seems derivative, it’s because she was the first in a long line.
If anyone is in tune with Glasgow’s do-it-yourself success story, it has to be Sorcha Dallas, whose eponymous gallery developed out of the nomadic Switchspace project. German-born artist Michael Stumpf is currently showing in the tiny space, and with three solitary objects he has created a magical forest worthy of the Brothers Grimm.
A roughly assembled white tree rises out of a rock of black paper, pewter gloop at its roots. Two pewter walnut halves dangle from the upper branches, and swathes of black denim on the wall, sculpted letters spell out a cryptic sentence as if from the pages of a gothic storybook. Indeed you feel as if you are inside the story book, inhabiting the illustration and within touching distance of the text.
There’s more story-book trickery along the Gallowgate, in one of Dallas’s offsite projects. Sitting in the middle of waste ground just beyond the Barrowlands – at Melbourne Street, on the site of the old meat market – is an egg-head on its side, looking like it rolled off its body somewhere in Dennistoun. The huge polystyrene creation, entirely mosaiced with broken tiles, is the work (and face) of Alex Frost.
Frost has long been concerned with the reproduction of images by mechanised means, using systematic approaches to build abstract fragments into a meaningful whole. Mosaic is an obvious extension of this investigation. But leaving Frost’s conceptual framework aside, there is simple pleasure in seeing this unexpected glitter-ball head abandoned in a pile of muck and rubbish.
And that, I suspect, will be the success of the Glasgow International: unexpected things in unexpected places. If there is a secret to Glasgow’s success, it’s surely got to be audacity.