GoMA at 25

Like all museums and galleries across the world our plans for 2021 are ever changing and responding to the extraordinary times that we are currently living in. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that GoMA will be 25 this year and that marks a moment in the history of the organisation that we felt we couldn’t miss – even though we may not be able to programme exhibitions and events or gather to celebrate in the way that we would have loved to for this year.

We opened to the public on 30 March 1996 and formally opened by HM The Queen on 3 July. A BBC documentary – which if we were open you could see on display in Gallery 2 as part of Taste! – highlights the polarised responses to GoMA in its initial years. Derided by a number of art critics and artists based locally, who were ignored in initial collecting activities, it was loved by visitors who exceeded the expected numbers and have continued to grow from around 300,000 per annum to around 550,000 – 600,000. However, initial collecting activities also included works – now recognised as key acquisitions – by Jo Spence, Bruce Lacey, Bridget Riley and Niki de Saint Phalle.

2021 presents us with an opportunity to think about this significant moment in the museum’s youthful history, reflect on the work to date and strengthen its current innovative exhibition, learning, access and collecting activities. We are celebrating 25 years of a unique, at times eclectic, socially conscious institution that has taken risks with projects and opportunities to support a world class visual arts sector in the city whilst creating a programme for the increasing number of visitors that is creative, curious and unexpected. To realise this there has been, and is still, a committed staff team across the building from the management, curatorial and learning teams who develop the programme, to the front of house staff who are passionate about the service they provide to visitors, our colleagues across museums and libraries (the public library in the basement opened in 2002) and partners over the years that work on the projects, exhibitions and programmes in the building.

Since GoMA opened in 1996 we have presented over 200 exhibitions with diverse artists from all over the world, collected powerful work by local, UK, and international artists, and developed an award winning learning programme for all ages, abilities and interests. In recent years the public programme has responded to and reflected on the history of the building, the city’s audience priorities and the changing context of the world we live in, finding ways to support the local visual arts community. The archive on this blog is testament to a diverse programme that has defined the museum since it opened. More recent exhibitions include: Stones Steeped in History, on the history of the building referencing Empire, Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Royal Exchange; exhibitions and subsequent acquisitions by Douglas Gordon, Jacqueline Donachie, Hal Fischer, queer timɘs school prints (commissioned from Jason E Bowman), Aaron Angell and Jack Knox; a focus on collecting work by women or non-binary artists; partnerships with Glasgow International on Cosima Von Bonin (2016), Tessa Lynch (2016) and Cellular World (2018); and collection exhibitions including – Devils in the Making (2015-16), Ripples on the Pond (2015 -16), Taste! (2017 -), Polygraphs (2017 -18), Inner City (2018), Domestic Bliss (2019 -) and Fiona Tan: Disorient (2019).

Reflecting, responding to and supporting this exhibition programme has been a learning programme for schools, community groups, and visitors of all ages, facilitated by an award wining and experienced in-house learning team. This programme comprises events, workshops, talks, and tours, including the popular and long-running Saturday Art Club, Art for Baby, Mindful Art Sessions, holiday programmes, Orient-ation: a welcome programme for asylum seekers and refugees, autism friendly openings, and handling box sessions about the history of the building. In 2019 we launched a new programme for young people aged 16-25, the GoMA Youth Group, now at its second year, which has made the voice of young people represented at GoMA, while creating opportunity for skills development for our young participants. In the same year, we established COMMONSpace, a display area to highlight our work and partnerships with key organisations in the city, through a programme of community generated exhibitions. This continues to grow even while our museum is temporarily closed, with new exciting online collaborations with Empower Women for Change and Haemophilia Scotland. In 2020 GoMA won the Big Draw Award for the second time (the 1st was in 2010) for its project linking drawing and wellbeing. For 2021 a focus on care, health and wellbeing sees this work develop and the engaged programme respond to the Covid crisis, in addition to global concerns about climate justice and Black Lives Matter through online workshops, events and eventually gallery based opportunities. GoMA has been able to support the visual arts sector by employing artists at all stages of their careers in this learning programme through opportunities like the associate artist programme (creating new commissions through a shared curiosity in a theme); employing freelance artists to deliver workshops; commissioning performances, events and new work; and creating opportunities for them to engage visitors in issues that they explore in their work.

While we are not able to announce dates for our exhibition programme this year until more is known about the current restrictions. We do hope to develop our programme online and back in the building when possible. During 2020 GoMA successfully applied to Museums Galleries Scotland, Glasgow City Heritage Trust, Contemporary Art Society and Art Fund for grants to support a diverse programme of writing, commissions, performance, podcasts, and events to mark GoMA at 25 and also develop At Home – A digital way to connect with GoMA. As part of this, Rhona Warwick Paterson, the current Associate Artist, will develop the writing and conversations from her initial work through a collaboration with artist Tessa Lynch. The learning team will continue to develop our formal and informal programmes, key to the delivery of this grant funded programme, which interweave with the exhibition programme. The GoMA Youth Group also have a new cohort of 14 enthusiastic young people who are currently planning exciting things online for 2021.

We begin this GoMA at 25 online programme with the resumption of live curator talks on Friday 5 February, where we look at LGBTQ+ programming over the last 25 years as part of LGBT History Month. The curator talks will be the first Friday of every month and please follow our Instagram for updates and information. Our core programme for workshops on creativity, care and wellbeing (including the very popular Saturday Art Club) can be found here for those looking to join in online.

So as we end January 2021 and look forward to longer days, we will reflect on GoMA’s innovation and risk-taking since its controversial opening in 1996 to early partnerships with Glasgay!, finding a voice through the social justice programmes (2003-9), Art Fund International (2007-12), partnerships with Glasgow International (2005 – ) and developing award winning work with socially engaged artists. For us the 25th anniversary is a chance to reflect on how this unique organisation has developed over 25 years. And, of course, we hope that GoMA will continue to be a self-reflective and bold museum carving its own path within a contemporary art discourse.

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