Since 2007, when the Turner prize ventured outside the M25 for the first time to Tate Liverpool in support of the city’s year as the European Capital of Culture, the exhibition has moved around the UK. The Prize’s journeys from London every other year have taken it to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, and Derry in Northern Ireland; this October’s iteration can be found at Glasgow’s Tramway.
The Scottish-based Travelling Gallery is celebrating the Turner Prize’s imminent arrival – and mirroring its peripatetic nature – with a capsule exhibition by previous nominees and winners from Scotland. As its name suggests, the Travelling Gallery, which was founded by the Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) in 1978, is a mobile display space situated in a bus. After a week touring sites in Edinburgh, including a stint on Calton Hill outside Collective’s headquarters in the City Dome, a spell on the Leith waterfront, and a trip to the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Travelling Gallery will set off around the highlands and islands before winding its way back to Glasgow.
The exhibition itself is a modest affair and, like the Prize, features a mixture of media and approaches. There’s a Callum Innes abstract in one corner, and a David Shrigley video doing its thing in another. There’s a nuanced print series by Lucy Skaer, based on the front pages of the Guardian for a week that she arbitrarily dedicated to the project. It happened to be the week in which the Boston bombers were tracked down in the US and Margaret Thatcher received a state funeral in the UK: Skaer bleached out details from the pages so that uncanny remainders float in the resulting space – a wreath hovers in mid air; parts of a uniformed figure are suspended in fading fragments. Music by Rufus Wainwright from a digital video work by Douglas Gordon floods the small oblong space, while a jaunty Jim Lambie sculpture of burnished metal hanging at the far end throws back reflections of the audience.
Writing for the Guardian, Jonathan Jones criticised the Travelling Gallery’s show for focussing solely on Scottish artists, pointing out that a more representative selection would include works by nominees and winners based throughout the UK. Jones argued that such nationalistic tendencies would lead down the dangerous path of parochialism.
Such concerns are understandable, but it feels a bit much to lay all this at the Travelling Gallery’s bus door. As a mobile space it is designed to fit into wherever it happens to be, and visitors during its week in Edinburgh could also catch an array of works by US sculptor John Chamberlain at Inverleith House; a fascinating and characteristically uncompromising show by the German conceptual artist Hanne Darboven at Talbot Rice; and two films by the London-based artist Beatrice Gibson at Collective addressing the global finance system.
On my visit, I shared the space with two very excited children. They only stayed about five minutes, but in that time they leapt from work to work, peered at their reflections in the Lambie piece, gamely listened to the Shrigley video, and asked innumerable questions of the guard and their grandma. The Travelling Gallery was clearly a hit: there was some art, but not too much, and it was – most importantly – inside a bus. The Travelling Gallery’s itinerary includes multiple schools, several community centres and local libraries. Yes, it may only have Scottish artists in it on this tour, but you suspect it’s going to be doing far more entertaining than indoctrinating.
The Travelling Gallery ‘Eyes on the Prize’ exhibition tours The Orkneys, Highlands, East Dunbartonshire, South Ayrshire, Perth & Kinross, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow (see website for dates).
The Turner Prize 2015 is at Tramway, Glasgow, from 1 October 2015–17 January 2016: the winner will be announced on 7 December.