Tucked up opposite the extraordinary copper- clad facade of Glasgow's smart Radisson SAS hotel, in an area that is now changing so fast it can barely catch breath, is a red sandstone Edwardian terrace offering the kind of office accommodation that reeks of another era entirely. Up tiled stairs, among a warren of offices that house the kind of tenants you find in certain kinds of paperbacks, including a detective agency and an outfit that describes itself as ''invisible menders'', you'll find the organisation that calls itself the Modern Institute.

The name may sound quaint and outdated, but in its clever collision of past and future it is instantly recognised across the frontiers of the art world. The Modern Institute is a gallery of international repute, and is unmistakably the outstanding commercial success of the Scottish art world of the last decade.

The artists it represents include established international figures such as Martin Boyce and Cathy Wilkes. There are Jim Lambie and Simon Starling, who represented Scotland in the Zenomap project at the Venice Biennale last year. Sharing a studio in the building are Toby Paterson, winner of the Beck's Futures Prize in 2002, and Beck's nominee, Hayley Tompkins.

The institute's director, 35 year-old Toby Webster, has won an international reputation for his artistic credibility and his business savvy.

It was six years ago that Webster, former Tramway director Charles Esche and writer and curator Will Bradley set up the organisation, to fill a gap by supporting artists' projects. These days it's a name to be conjured with and a commercial gallery headed by Webster alone, representing some 22 artists from Scotland and overseas.

Six years on, is Webster surprised at his success? ''I'm not at all surprised,'' he says. ''Everybody has worked so hard, but it never feels as though we've got there. As far as the organisation is concerned, there is so much to do, and as far as the artists are concerned, it's the beginning of people's careers. When you look at the history of galleries, many only last for a particular amount of time and then drop off, yet I think we are at the beginning of a cycle that could last 25 years.''

Webster cut his teeth in London and Glasgow as a young artist and designer. Brought up in Glasgow, where his grandfather had been a prominent stained-glass artist, he worked in London for the designer Ron Arad before studying environmental art at Glasgow School of Art. He graduated in 1993 and came back in the mid-1990s to join the committee of Transmission Gallery. His CV includes stints as a curator at the CCA and London's ICA. It was at Transmission that Webster spotted the opportunity to represent artists, many of whom had already established international exhibiting careers, but had little financial stability.

The artist Martin Boyce, who has worked with the Modern Institute since its inception, says: ''I don't know whether it's just a Scottish thing, but there were just not a great deal of reference points for us. There wasn't much visible in the way of real, financially mature success. I think a lot of people needed permission to take the next step. Toby didn't need permission; he didn't have those hang-ups. With Toby, he just saw an open door rather than a difficult situation.''

Yet while the door may have been open, the development of the organisation wasn't entirely seamless. '' We had a lot to learn,'' says Webster, ''particularly the professionalism of the gallery system.'' The tension between the artists' project aspect of the business and the commercial representation wasn't always easily resolved, and not all of the galleries' curatorial projects were successful.

However, its success in working with artists was based on mutual respect and enterprise rather than traditional gallery values. ''We don't have the hierarchical thing that many galleries have,'' says Boyce. ''We are all of the same generation.'' Where the Modern Institute took off, though, was in the international art market. Webster realised that at art fairs in Berlin, Turin and the key European event, Basel, there was an appetite for and interest in the work of his artists.

''It used to be that collectors would need to visit galleries, but in a single city they can now see the work of artists from New York to Warsaw. We're surviving because of that change in collecting. We do sell stuff from shows in the gallery now, and people will travel to see the stuff here, but the art fairs were crucial.'' Crucial as well, is Webster's eye as a former artist. ''When you look at a stand of ours at a fair, it does feel as if there is something going on - its not just hanging pictures on the wall. I have a particular idea of how to push things. I know I'm good at hanging stuff - I like edginess. Yet the solo projects we do are really important because you just see what the artists are doing and it's nothing to do with me.''

Webster's eye is much discussed in the art world, and it is often said that his artists share a particular style or set of interests: classic modernist design, pop music and clubbing, and the history of abstract painting as well as conceptual art all seem to be in the mix. ''I like the individuality of the artists,'' says Webster. ''People always tell me I've got a distinctive style, but I would never think that. I just look at what the artists are doing.''

Martin Boyce says that while Webster doesn't in any sense lead the work that is made, he has been an influence on the Glasgow milieu. ''I think Toby does have a very strong aesthetic - he is very aware of the way things look. It has been influential. He was at art school with, and around as an artist at the same time as, many of the artists that he started to focus on, but I would describe it as more of a sensibility than a visual style.''

Does Webster regret giving up his own career as an artist? ''No, God no. The more I get away from it, the more I think that I'm not really interested in being an artist, especially after working with so many of them. I think I've got something else to offer - I like meeting people. I like putting people together.''

Putting people together necessitates a lot of travel which, as the father of two children, can be hard. Webster says he is trying to slow down a bit. ''If you ask all the gallerists, it's the same - a lot of them never see their families. I don't

travel as much as many of them.''

In April, he will curate Strange I've Seen That Face Before, a vast show at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art that will unite Modern Institute artists with figures such as American icon, Sol Lewitt,

designer, Ettore Sotsass and

Turner Prize-winner, Martin Creed.

Just six years into the gallery's allotted 25, Webster remains ambitious. This year, the Institute will have 12 exhibitions in the gallery and Modern Institute artists will show in venues across Europe and America. In March, Webster will be off to New York's Armoury Art Fair.

''Everywhere I go now, I'm Modern Institute,'' he says. ''I'm not Toby Webster now. It feels like it has swallowed me up. It takes up my whole life, but if I didn't dedicate myself to something like that, then there's no point. You really have to live and breathe it.''

The Modern Institute is at 73 Robertson Street, Glasgow,

Suite 6, Floor 1. Strange I've

Seen That Face Before is at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, from April 7.


l Hayley Tompkins

A bright prospect nominated

this year for the Beck's

Futures Prize. Tompkins's subtle intimate watercolour paintings and improvisational drawings are increasingly sought after and were recently acquired by MOMA in

New York

l Martin Boyce

His art is a cool collision of

classic design from Saul Bass to Charles Eames, and a melancholy urban streak. Fans include

cult Canadian writer Douglas Coupland

l Simon Starling

The mad professor of the

group, Starling is known for his eccentric yet inspired projects

that fuse utopian ideals, craft

skills and art history

His project at Venice last year

saw him create a self-sufficient

island of rhododendrons in a palace interior.

l Jim Lambie (pictured)

A key success. From his striped floor pieces to an installation created

from dozens of record sleeves, Jim Lambie fuses a refined

pop sensibility with

an innate


of the sculptural possibilities of