Blueprint for a Bogey installation shot

Art review: Blueprint For A Bogey, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

By Moira Jeffrey

WHAT makes a cult movie? A charismatic new star? A chequered history at the box office or with the censor? The approval of rock stars and rebels? A rolling late-night slot on cable TV for a ready-made audience in teenage bedrooms?

Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film Over The Edge had it in spades. Matt Dillon’s first ever role saw him as a muscle-bound teenager in a cut-off T-shirt, on the wrong side of the rigidly straight tracks in a Denver tract housing development that is all work and no play. It’s a kind of scorched earth suburbia, an isolated new town with no room in the masterplan for its doomed youth. Famously, with its scenes of teen disaffection, rioting and adolescent sex, it is said to have been a favourite of Kurt Cobain’s and formed the inspiration for Nirvana’s video for Smells Like Teen Spirit.

I feel like some ancient anthropologist watching the film now at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, chopped and changed into a new short film, After School Special by the artist Corin Sworn. But I can recognise, along with the novelty hairstyles and flares and the extra big combs in every child warrior’s back pocket, the way that Sworn’s remake of the film sacrifices none of its charisma, whilst rejecting its pessimistic view of human nature.

In the movie the kids go crazy but are reined in by the controlling power of parents and police. In Sworn’s version, instead of being inarticulate with frustration – tellingly one of the main characters is a mute who communicates on the phone by tapping – they are bruised and battered but remain rebel philosophers.

After School Special is one of three works by Sworn, currently a bright star in the Glasgow firmament, in Blueprint For A Bogey, a show loosely themed around the right of young people to play as enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It follows hot on the heels of the Fruitmarket show Childish Things. Where that show took an art-historical approach and emphasised the way that recent art has been interested in toys, this show understands play in its widest sense: as a right, as a method analogous to certain artistic practices, as a practical and political issue.

So on the one hand we have Andy Goldsworthy throwing sticks in the air to see how they might fall, Eduardo Paolozzi prints that raid the overflowing toy box of popular culture, Peter Blake collages and Paula Rego’s nursery rhyme prints.

On the other we have Graham Fagen’s Pish Balloon, a work that provides museum or crime scene-type documentation of street weapons (you work it out from the title), both satirising history’s attempt to neutralise bad behaviour by documenting it and staking a claim for an alternative to conventional histories. In a similarly sociological vein, Sworn with Ciara Phillips and Nicolas Party, has also produced a wall of bright graphic posters featuring public information phrases from Phillips’ Canadian childhood. The show is curated by Katie Bruce, the gallery’s social inclusion co-ordinator.

With GoMA it is sometimes hard to write about the gallery’s unique perspective on social justice and culture without raking over its history. Its original inception was a kind of misconception under Julian Spalding, who failed to recognise the contemporary art scene on his own doorstep.

Its successful programme to rebuild its collections and reputation in the art world was nearly dented by the pressures it came under – first from evangelical Christians and eventually from elements of the city’s own cautious infrastructure – over its Shout exhibition about gay rights.The truth is that, in recent years, GoMA has worked harder than any other institution I can think of to reflect on and remake its working methods.

Its permanent collections have taken leaps and bounds from the Art Fund International scheme in partnership with the Common Guild, to the burgeoning collection of Scotland’s artists.Downstairs the gallery is full of young people and tourists laughing at David Shrigley’s darkly moralistic humour and taking in the camp glory of Jim Lambie.

The gallery has projects under way with any number of good artists including the wonderful Kate Davis and, for Glasgow International next year, a show with Karla Black who will represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale this year.

Its defining approach to social justice is no longer just the focus of big hand-wringing shows, what I once rather snootily called miserable biennials. Instead it permeates the institution from the top down and the bottom up and no longer seems like political correctness or cringey apologetics for culture. Blueprint For A Bogey is genuinely fun and certainly not anodyne.

Across GoMA’s galleries there are still images and moving film of David Sherry’s playful performances. Here he is dressed – or trapped – in a suitcase. He’s lying on a Swiss pavement having painted himself a halo of orange hair. In one set of images he tries and fails to catch Amsterdam trams, setting off just too late every time. These days GoMA feels much more on top of things. It knows it hasn’t missed the boat.


Until 5 June

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 20 February, 2011