in Frieze , Interviews | 10 JUN 24

Glasgow According to: Toby Webster of The Modern Institute

As Glasgow International 2024 launches, the gallerist discusses the evolution of the city’s art community and showing Keith Haring at the biennial

in Frieze , Interviews | 10 JUN 24

The Modern Institute was founded in Glasgow in 1997 and now has two spaces in the city. Its artists include Martin Boyce, Anne Collier, Urs Fischer, Luke Fowler, Jim Lambie, Nicolas Party, Simon Starling, Alberta Whittle, Cathy Wilkes and Richard Wright, the last of whom is being shown by the gallery at the 2024 Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art alongside Kim Bohie and Keith Haring. Founder Toby Webster discusses the evolution of the city’s art scene and the importance of the festival in its cultural landscape.

What impact does Glasgow International have on the city?

The festival reflects Glasgow through this prism and brings lots of people, including art-world professionals and artists, to the city. Spaces are opened and occupied by artists, which also happens sporadically during the year, and people are spurred on to produce this kind of satellite activity. Richard Birkett has been a breath of fresh air. He’s worked on contextualizing Glasgow in an international scene of artists who create work themselves and within groups. It has a great energy and unfolds the city.

Toby Webster. Photo Alex James-Aylin
Toby Webster. Photo Alex James-Aylin

What’s special about the Glasgow art scene?

The scene here is pretty diverse and constantly evolving. There is enough going on to not know about everything, which gives the place a good energy. Organizations go through bumps like anywhere but continue to do interesting and ambitious shows. The city creates a frame for artists and that’s what I like. It always feels like a raw energy.

What changes have you seen in the city over the last few years?

There has been a definite growth in the number of artists staying in Glasgow or moving here over the last 25 years, though annoyingly Brexit hasn’t helped – we saw a lot of Europeans leave during the pandemic who never returned. Artists have moved here from the rest of the UK, though, and there has been a big growth in the art scene in city’s southside. It used to be much easier to get a temporary space for a project but now it seems to be more complex. However, there’s a great spirit here and artists are taking on these challenges and occupying alternative spaces. 

Keith Haring Blue Caterpillar, 1984 Chalk on paper Diptych 212.7 x 106.7 cm Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow Photo: Patrick Jameson
Keith Haring, Blue Caterpillar, 1984. Chalk on paper, diptych 212.7 × 106.7 cm. Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow. Photo: Patrick Jameson

You’re showing Kim Bohie, Keith Haring and Richard Wright as part of the festival this year – what led you to this selection of artists

The selection was put together with Andrew Hamilton, my partner in the gallery. Richard Wright has been with the gallery since the beginning and is part of the group of founding artists. He’s so incredible to work with. In many ways, his practice embodies the essence which generated the gallery in the first place. 

We were drawn to Wright's relationship to the early works of Keith Haring in their energy and complexity concerning place and time. Both artists present questions around transience and longevity – where and how art should exist. The Haring works are displaced in an interesting way. We’re showing his subway drawings that were cut from their original context in 1980s New York. 

Kim Bohie paints things around her, and we identified with the grounding elements in her work where she frames a view or a detail from her immediate surroundings. Each piece creates a meditative space for viewers, focusing on the natural environment of her home island of Jeju, South Korea. 

01 Richard Wright installing at Aird's Lane, The Modern Institute, 2024 Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow Photo: Mae Mackenzie
Richard Wright installing at Aird’s Lane, The Modern Institute, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow. Photo: Mae Mackenzie

What else are you personally looking forward to seeing this year?

Definitely Cameron Rowland’s intervention at Ramshorn Cemetery but really the whole thing. I’m looking forward to exploring and to some surprises. 

Favourite museum, gallery or cultural space in Glasgow?

I love The Mackintosh House. The brutal concrete exterior at The Hunterian is a work of genius and so Glasgow. The complex, tender interiors fill me with awe and respect for Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald: such innovators. Cathy Wilkes also has a solo presentation at The Hunterian Art Gallery right next to The Mackintosh House, which is incredible.

Celine I also love. It’s in a private residence, which is really how I started showing too, and has a great DIY feel. It’s established now but has the best shows and energy. In the same neighbourhood and a must-see is 20 Albert Road, which is co-run by three projects – Ivory Tars, Cento and A-M-G5. David Dale Gallery, 42 Carlton Place and Gallery Malmo are great spaces too.  

Kim Bohie Towards, 2023, Colour on canvas 162.2 x 130.3 cm 63 7/8 x 51 1/4 in Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow Photo: Patrick Jameson
Kim Bohie, Towards, 2023. Colour on canvas 162.2 × 130.3 cm. Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow. Photo: Patrick Jameson

Which emerging artists excite you at the moment? 

Well, she’s pretty established, but Alberta Whittle goes from strength to strength and never fails to make precise, evocative work. She currently has a project, ‘Under the skin of the ocean, the thing urges us up wild’, at Mount Stuart on Bute. A perfect day trip from Glasgow. 

There is [Glasgow-born] Andrew Sim, too. They are making really amazing paintings about queer culture and identity. They have a show, ‘Two rainbows and a forest of plants and trees’,⁠ at Jupiter Artland, just outside Edinburgh. 


Favourite place to eat in the city?

Gloriosa is my go-to for lunch or dinner. I’m so in awe of the chef Rosie Healey. We talk about food and restaurants around the world, and when she asks me if they are as good as here, my answer is always, ‘No, we are spoilt.’ I also love Outlier, which is near the gallery. Its owner Steven Turner is literally building the restaurant around you as you eat! We are there daily.

Best bar or pub near The Modern Institute?

I like Mono and it also has an amazing record shop called Monorail run by Stephen Pastel from the Pastels who’s such a Glasgow inspiration. Pre-pub, I like Doh. Bare Bones Chocolate round the corner do an amazing hot chocolate too and it’s nice to have the chocolate aroma on Osborne Street. Shawarma King is perfect post-pub.

Best thing about Glasgow?

Its location and canniness. 

Worst thing about Glasgow?

The constant sunshine.

The Modern Institute is part of Glasgow International Festival, 7 – 23 June 2024.

Read our critic’s guide to the festival.

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