Sex and death.
Music, erotica, animals. Slow-motion and emotion. This is the dark and darkened world of Douglas Gordon, Turner Prize winner and leading name of the contemporary generation celebrated in this nationwide show, Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. He is as good an artist as any with which to begin a survey of the Glasgow shows.
On the ground floor of the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma), which has been blacked out, sits Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from About 1992 Until Now, more than 100 monitors stacked on the floor, displaying, all at the same time, the works described by the title. The sound of the conflicting soundtracks is a disorientating noise and, in the gloom, the blizzard of screens, often showing black and white film, glare and glimmer. 24 Hour Psycho, one of Gordon's signature works, is playing, as is Five Year Drive By, his five-year long version of The Searchers. Gordon confronts sex and death relentlessly, as well as the limits and contortions of the body. Hands are everywhere: wrestling, being pinned under feet, being shaved, being roughly coloured in, writhing in and out of each other. Rooks, elephants, scorpions and spiders crawl, lumber and flit across screens - all life, and the shadows it casts, is here.
Across the city centre, something more obviously beautiful has been installed in a small gallery in Airds Lane by The Modern Institute. I saw Richard Wright's four lovely rectangular skylights on a sunny morning, and they threw gorgeous sprays of light across the bare walls of the otherwise empty space. The lead-lined skylights, made with handmade glass with the aid of experts in church stained glass, have been cut and designed with a series of intricate geometric patterns. These lines and shapes frazzle the eye a little, on closer inspection. Wright's wall paintings are ephemeral: he often removes them after they are displayed. The sprays of gorgeous spintered light cast by these panels of blown glass move his art both closer to complete transience and also, in the solidity of the frame, permanence.
Also working with glass and metal is the sculptor Sara Barker, who has a large display at Goma. These complex sculptures use plywood, aluminium, paint, brass and board. They often resemble dioramas or models for theatrical sets, tipped on their side. Amid the fascinating junctions, angles and partitions, there is also painting, detail and what is described as "incidents". The use of brass rod seems reminiscent of bygone interior design, but the more solid the structures become, the more surreal they feel too, and are fascinatingly embued with the helter-skelter architectural logic of dreams. There are hints of hands and faces as you walk around the sculptures and their three-dimensional forms reveal themselves. There are also some lovely glass and metal works here mounted on white plinths. Your reflection in glass panels adds another dimension to the materials. A large sculpture which is reminiscent of a horse or other creature is both voluptuous and spare at the same time. I found the whole show unexpectedly involving.
Moyna Flannigan's paintings, also in Goma, loom from a penumbral dream. For her exhibition she has addressed the idea and character of Eve. In some ambiguous and troubling paintings, these female figures are by turns malevolent and sensual, detailed and abstract. There are many long legs and cone breasts. Fashion models seem to walk, alone, down runways in blasted, empty buildings. One central painting, oil on linen, shows a spider-legged woman surrounded with screaming babies. There is subtlety in the images too, with hints of skulls, wheels, and other details amid the murk and general sense of dismay and discombobulation.
By contrast the staging of Nathan Coley's The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, is clear and just as effective. The plain cardboard models of places of worship, taken from those listed in the 2004 Edinburgh Yellow Pages, are assembled closely together in one room. The skill and precision of their making is deeply satisfying, as is their form and volume. The removal of any sign of religious observance could be seen as a comment on the declining numbers of worshippers in modern culture, but the sheer space and material given over to religious observance in one city and its environs also hits home. One wonders what the fate of each of these buildings in 100 years will be: this may be remembered as a key moment in their life, when they were both miniaturised but also respected and even honoured.
One of the main themes of Generation is of course the Glasgow School of Art and the role it played in teaching and guiding many of the artists in the shows. There is a show at the new Reid Building, too, by Graham Fagen, who will also represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale next year. Cabbages in an Orchard is inspired by CR Mackintosh's student work of the same name, from The Magazine, a DIY publication that the great architect and painter - whose Mackintosh School stands gutted and melancholy across Renfrew Street - made while he was a student and three of Mackintosh's earlier watercolours are included in the show. The exhibition is dominated by dozens of watercolours which emblazon the walls with colour. These works, titled Scheme for Consciousness, are self-portraits of a troubled kind, with white teeth picked out in the centre of vivid throbs of colour. More attractive are two trees: one made with small boxes of ceramic, gold lustre and bronze, references to Mackintosh's designs. The Scheme for Nature, a bronze tree which has been weathered outside for a year, is a lovely sculpture, reminiscent of Fagen's bronze roses. The last three artists to represent Scotland at the Biennale are being shown, it should be noted, at the Common Guild on Woodlands Terrace. The glowing colour palette works of Hayley Tompkins are there at the moment and the year will also see the works of Corin Sworn and Turner-nominated filmmaker Duncan Campbell.
In the Merchant City, at the Modern Institute's gallery on Osborne Street, there are more three-dimensional works - in this case, eight sculptures tightly bound in plastic film by an airport luggage wrapping service and boxed in amber Perspex by artist Scott Myles. The show is entitled Mummies and the luggage, faintly sinister and body-like in their boxes, have been mummified in a modern way here. There are large Jacquard wall hangings, as well as prints made from the artist's photographs of Guy Debord's former home in Champot. The images of the Situationist's home have been smeared with painting before the image has been printed.
Just around the corner, something more easily grasped is on offer: T shirts designed by a series of leading artists. These are part of Discordia, presented by Patricia Fleming Projects. T shirts are priced at £25. Most striking, perhaps, is the one offered by Torsten Lauschmann. He has quoted the phrase Glasgow Miracle, two words used to describe the incredible effervescence of contemporary art in Glasgow in the last 20 years, above the image of a flesh eating zombie.
It has been interesting to ponder how Cathy Wilkes would respond to the very large space of Tramway 2 in the city's south side. In fact most of the room is empty, her tragic assemblage of bodies and objects restricted to a small space roughly framed by two hanging grids of wool. The figures stand and lie as if in a white limbo. On the floor lie the bodies of children, asleep or dead. One is clothed in white cloth printed with red patterns, as if blood is seeping through. Another child-like figure lies close to a large, draped figure. The figure is hard and ribbed. One can only think of death and disaster beside this figures, the children killed or otherwise left desolate by adult wars. Other figures stand, desolate, beside their poor belongings and bric-a-brac. Like her Possil work at the last Venice Biennale, Wilkes summons a sense of desolation and loss with tender gestures and expert spacing and placing. It is both bleak and brilliant.
Also at Tramway is Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan's spiky (literally, watch yourself as you move around it) contribution to Generation: a large sculpture in the shape of an S. It revisits, in a way, their HK work from 2001, which spelt out Heroin Kills across Tramway 2. The S is from that work, but is now garishly painted and truncated. A series of different voices read different takes on the Glasgow scene and its distinctive morphology. It is rather amusing, too, and a good place to end, or begin, your artistic journey around the city.