Monday 21 January 2013

How did the Third Eye Centre decide on exhibitions?

In my last post I was looking at the box that contained documents organizing travelling shows either to or from the Third Eye Centre. Naturally I was curious about how they decided what should be shown and my curiosity peaked when I found that this box includes for comparison a draft for the official policy statement of the Third Eye Centre describing it's first nine months as well as a draft of a lecture Michael Tooby gave in 1983 at the Demarco Conference describing the history of the Third Eye and its current priorities.

I thought that it would be interesting to pose the two draft documents as a conversation, almost a debate between two periods of time. They both capture a moment where they are aware of their successes and what they imagine the future may hold.

"The exhibition programme at Third Eye over the first nine months has displayed a wide range of work, varying in style and achievement from Sir Stanley Spencer's Port Glasgow paintings to a display of schoolchildren's art in the cafe space." – Presumably written by Tom McGrath with support of the Third Eye staff.
"Third Eye Centre was opened eight years ago. It is Glasgow's centre for the contemporary arts, with public funding predominantly from Scottish Arts Council but also from local authorities, with income from its own activities, particularly its bookshop and cafe." – Michael Tooby, the exhibitions organiser writing in 1983.

I’ve started by listing the first opening sentence of each document, but from here on out they will be given signifier names to denote the period of time as if these were the characters. Some sentences are slightly rearranged topically, but not to the extent that they are taken completely out of context.

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Eight Years: "The basis of the gallery's programme is to show a representative range of what we consider to be the most interesting and enjoyable things happening in contemporary art and culture. We feel it important that our audience can see a breadth of work, rather than us promote one area over another. Thus we try to include sculpture, painting, installation work, performance, even if in specialist art terms some of these areas may at any given time be perceived as more or less fashionable."

Nine Months: “So many different aspects of the contemporary visual arts have been shown that it is difficult to enumerate them - paintings - abstract and representational, sculpture, photography, video, craft, jewellery, expanded cinema - and the Centre, which has two main exhibition areas, has made full use of its subsidiary cafe and foyer areas so that frequently three or four exhibitions have run concurrently."

Eight Years: "There are 25-30 exhibitions a year, and around 150-200 performances, lectures, readings etc. Virtually all Third Eye originated exhibitions tour the U.K… The centre has 14 full time staff, 3 working on exhibitions with a small team of casual labour."

Nine Months: "It has been a program that has provided much of interest of art specialists and, at the same time, got the "man in the street" involved. Partly this has been to do with the style of presentation - as relaxed and friendly as we can make it whilst keeping the exhibitions secure - and partly because of the constant swing in emphasis it the programme contains between art practised in and for itself and art involving other concerns (Jimmy Boyle, List D art) to which the general public can more easily relate. (The best exhibitions - Eardley and Spencer - managed to combine both elements.)"

Eight Years: “"The other important area of our program are exhibitions which directly relate to the city and community, such as exhibitions on Glasgow's environment: the city center area of which we are a part; Glasgow's prison, with its Special Unit; on Unemployment in Glasgow; on the way art is taught in schools in Glasgow; on housing”

“… two recent shows which will illustrate two contrasting aspects of our programme, and will serve to focus on some key questions. These exhibitions are ‘Albert Irvin 76-83’, and ‘A History of Scottish Football’. Bert Irvin’s show was an important exhibition for the London-based artist: his largest one-man show in Britain” “…A work made specially for Glasgow, 'Renfrew', named after the street in which Glasgow School of Art stands, was his most recent work. It was received by both public and specialist audience alike with enthusiasm.”

“… two recent shows which will illustrate two contrasting aspects of our programme, and will serve to focus on some key questions. These exhibitions are ‘Albert Irvin 76-83’, and ‘A History of Scottish Football’. Bert Irvin’s show was an important exhibition for the London-based artist: his largest one-man show in Britain” “…A work made specially for Glasgow, 'Renfrew', named after the street in which Glasgow School of Art stands, was his most recent work. It was received by both public and specialist audience alike with enthusiasm.”

Nine Months: “Third Eye is not so concerned with those who already have a big reputation and already have galleries in which to show their work. There are, however, many artists working in the West of Scotland whose reputations would have been bigger and whose work would have been more widely known had they chosen to live in a different part of the country."

"And there are those younger artists who might never emerge simply because there does not exist sufficient incentive or encouragement for them to continue to produce new work - particularly work which shows a contemporary awareness."

"The relevance of this aspect of our policy hardly needs to be argued: while we might continue to want to make status exhibitions by artists of international renown, and to import as wide a range of contemporary work as possible, we are unlikely to make any real progress in the visual arts in Scotland unless we give much more encouragement to the artists who actually live and work here. In this Third Eye has one main advantage over the Scottish Arts Council - we can afford to be biased."

“Third Eye also made – or helped artists to make – less expensive exhibitions by local artists (John Byrne, Carol Gibbons, Ian MacMillan, Jimmy Boyle.)”

Eight Years: "Moreover, while it is important that a large proportion of our time is devoted to presenting Scottish work, since precious few places outside Scotland do, we do not feel it our role to concentrate solely on Scottish artists. We can often do a valuable job in bringing major touring shows to Glasgow and Scotland, or in showing the work of artists from outside Scotland, from Britain, Ireland and abroad, whose work is not shown here." 

Nine Months: "The main question is - has the help we have given to the local artists we have worked with to date been effective enough? And the answer to that must be no." "…The fact remains that the Centre has not been able to provide enough follow-up to the basic exhibition to be of real assistance to the artist.”

Eight Years: "In the future one would like to see a permanently established team working on educative programmes both for children and adults in the gallery; integrating our 'community exhibitions' with the community; touring sections of them to different parts of the city and region.
 "the existence of this educative team, working for the public, will free our exhibitions team to do their job properly: working for artists. Curators and exhibition organisers must not be distracted from remembering that the box and the budget, that their gallery entails is only exists and brought to life through the work of artists." "The educative work genuinely enhances the work and makes it approachable, rather than cut across the aims of the artist."

Nine Months: "We could put much more effort into selling his work. But this is not at all easy in a city like Glasgow and it is doubtful if selling art in the financial sense is really the purpose of a public gallery such as Third Eye - although we do, of course, sell from time to time. The second approach is much more likely: we could do much more to promote the artist, particularly outside of his own locality, and not simply to promote individual artists but the whole idea of "artists in Scotland."

"There would also be a sense to embarking on a much more open exhibition, specifically designed to encourage younger artists, along the lines of the much-lamented Young Contemporaries exhibition. Such initiatives on our part might eventually come to be regarded as s important reference point for anyone who wants to keep abreast with what is happening in Scottish art."

Eight Years: "The reason why we wish to mount exhibitions such as the Football exhibition are clear enough: we are visited by large numbers of people who have never been to the Centre before; as a result we gain a credibility by being perceived by a wide public to be moving in what is seen as the real world, not an isolated art world; we are seen to share the interests of the city we exist in; and there is an educative effect: people get to know the building, comments such as 'I didn't know it was so big' or 'I thought you had to be a member' being common; and people unused to the concept of visiting an exhibition come to terms with what it is like to experience a static, visual display."
 We sold 50 catalogues at the Irvin exhibition, and we averaged sales of around 50 catalogues a day at the Football exhibition, in addition to a range of posters and cards. The Irvin exhibition was funded entirely from our revenue grant with income generated by sales and the touring of the exhibition. While the Football exhibition, in addition to those areas of funding, received major commercial sponsorship from the Clydesdale Bank."
 “In order to mount the 'Football' exhibition properly, we had to seek major sponsorship outside of public subsidy."

Nine Months: “Whether we like it or not, our budget is such that we will have to continue to look to the various sources of touring exhibitions in the future" “We could make well-presented touring shows of our own which might travel throughout Scotland and to other parts of the British Isles, perhaps, eventually, to Europe."

"When artists come together in groups in Scotland, it is not usually because they have ideas in common but more that they have the same needs. They need space to work in, access to equipment, places to exhibit, and so on." "Thus we have the Glasgow League of Artists, and the Glasgow Group, the Glasgow Print Studio, the Society of Women Artists etc. The two group exhibitions held in the first few months at the Third Eye were a great social success and were ‘good for business’.”

Eight Years: "However, when income from public sources is short and we learn that we must turn to the private sector for our funds, I fear that our other exhibitions and activities are far less attractive for similar sponsorship. We are, through our programme and its presentation, providing an important outlet for Contemporary art, for a city which is both deeply interested and responsive to it, but needful of the credible institution through which to approach it. We are also only just beginning to perform our job properly, and I hope that we will be able to continue to do so."
 "In common with most galleries and art centres in Britain, our plans for the future are limited and pragmatic. Indeed our priority at the moment is to make the building's roof watertight. Other projects include the development of office and workshop space so that projects may be better administered and artists working with us may be better catered for."

Nine Months: "But a policy, to remain alive, has to be constantly advancing and improving on itself. If we do not develop further, Third Eye will become known as one of those places that 'started with a bang' then fizzled out; the public will come to regard it as yet another of those predictable art places; the project will no longer be of interest to other parts of the country - the life will go out of it."

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While working within the archive it seems to me that it would be rare to find articles that one can compare and contrast since the process of going through an archive usually involves only being able to go through one box at a time. Seeing both side by side it really gave me interesting insight.

A tip that GSA archivist Susannah Waters gave to us volunteers once was to start with annual reports as they can serve as a good starting point for research. They give an account not only of the atmosphere of that moment in time but they also provide possible people, places and events to follow up on that would have otherwise appeared context-less in a searchable index.

The context of this discourse about ‘art specialists’ from the two drafts seems particularly important considering that Transmission gallery opens in 1983, “by graduates from Glasgow School of Art who were dissatisfied with the lack of exhibition spaces and opportunities for young artists in Glasgow” (this quote is taken from their website

I’d like to wrap up this post with some other ironic finds within the archives. A show of Albert Irvin’s work had been suggested back in 1975 (around the time of the first policy statement) and now after reading both reports it seems fitting that I would happen upon it.

(Image courtesy of the Third Eye Centre/CCA)

The last bit of irony is that part of the policy statement relates directly to Michael Tooby who served as Exhibitions organizer from 1980-1984.

Nine months: “There is, of course, one major hindrance to all the improvements and advanced outlined above – the lack of money. At present we are forced to operate a major exhibition programme without a full-time exhibitions officer to give it the care and attention it deserves”

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