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A year of artistic ups and downs

As the late Glaswegian social sculptor George Wyllie observed, "Public art is art the public can't avoid." Having spent two years getting under Wyllie's skin as an artist and as a man, thanks to my involvement in the year-long Whysman Festival that celebrated his life and legacy, I think he'd have enjoyed Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller's Sacrilege.

Sacrilege was one of my personal art highlights of 2012. Even my kids and my black lab worshipped at its altar on Glasgow Green, though the dog was banned from bouncing -

The giant inflatable Stonehenge, which enjoyed its first outing at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (GI) in April before heading off on a tour of the UK, attracted lengthy queues and groupies galore having a bounce all day, every day during its 18-day stay.

Is it art? Well, it captured the public's imagination. And it was a lot of fun. Someone said to me last week that they saw a clip on TV of the late Sir Patrick Moore at the real Stonehenge, and Deller's work had altered the way they viewed it. I'd say that was the purpose of art.

Elsewhere at GI, there was a cornucopia of happenings, from the inspired Art Lending Library, dreamed up by the city's Market Gallery, to quirkily grounded Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us in Govan, which reached out to the people of that area for assistance in hurling language across the Clyde.

In the galleries, Turner Prize nominee Karla Black gave us a giant tiramisu-like sculpture at GoMA made from 17 tons of different shades of sawdust with puffs of paint-daubed cellophane forming a weather system on top. Up at Kelvingrove, Glasgow-bred Turner Prize-winner Glasgow Richard Wright had an exhibition of his glowingly glorious works on paper.

As 2012 got into its stride, the year was dominated by a growing sense of irritation among the arts community in Scotland over Creative Scotland's heavy-handedness in dealing with artists across the cultural spectrum. Through it all, Scotland's privately run galleries and institutions continued to try to support its artists, many of whom have never received any public money and who survive on a pittance and take alternative employment as they try to pursue their vocation. (It has to be a vocation given the struggle to make ends meet faced by most artists and gallery-owners.)

In Glasgow, in 2012, two art institutions left us forever. Strathclyde University's Collins Gallery, which had been showcasing the best in cutting-edge visual art for almost 40 years, closed its doors in May, after a sparkling exhibition of George Wyllie's archive material. The depressing line from head honchos at the University was that running a gallery was not "necessary for the delivery of the university's academic programmes".

In August, we lost another art treasure, with the death of Cyril Gerber at the age of 94. A man who combined his love of art with business acumen, Gerber started up the Compass Gallery in the city in 1969 and was responsible for fostering the careers of many young artists.

The big shows in Edinburgh over the summer did not disappoint. I lost track of the number of people who told me they had loved the National Galleries of Scotland's blockbusters, Van Gogh To Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape In Europe 1880-1910 and Picasso And Modern British Art.

Elsewhere in the capital during the Edinburgh Art Festival, there were a couple of stand-out exhibitions in the shape of Ian Hamilton Finlay: Twilight Remembers at the Ingleby Gallery and Philip Guston at Inverleith House. I also found myself drawn into the last days of Dieter Roth in the Fruitmarket Gallery show, Dieter Roth: Diaries, which included a video installation recording the German artist's final year, lived in the knowledge he was slowly dying of the consequences of his alcoholism. All three exhibitions took place in spaces that did justice to the work and lived long in the memory after the viewing.

Big hitters in Glasgow included Rembrandt And The Passion at The Hunterian Art Gallery, and, at Kelvingrove, The Essence Of Beauty: 500 Years Of Italian Art.

The year is not over and many exhibitions will carry on into 2012. In Edinburgh, the much praised retrospective of John Bellany at the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound puts the lifetime's work of this national art treasure in perspective while in Glasgow, the George Wyllie Retrospective: In Pursuit Of The Question Mark continues to make us laugh and think again in equal measure.

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