GoMA opens new display charting building's history; Stones Steeped in History
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GoMA opens new display charting building's history; Stones Steeped in History

09/08/2017
As Scotland’s most popular modern art gallery and one of the country’s top ten visitor attractions, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow has opened a new display charting significant dates in the development of the site, together with important milestones in the cultural development of Glasgow. Stones Steeped in History tells the story from 1777, when the original building was commissioned as a mansion for tobacco merchant, William Cunninghame, until the present day. The permanent show will inform visitors of the history of the building and is also part of the city’s ambition to aid a deeper understanding of the role slavery played in the narrative of Glasgow. Images of beautiful old photographs, watercolours and postcards complement nostalgic images of Glasgow throughout the years, which enhance the detailed timeline on display. 

Stones Steeped in History begins with a brief account of the life of William Cunninghame and moves through times of great wealth, created by international trade. The building’s first commercial purpose was as a bank some forty years later, before becoming Glasgow’s Royal Exchange in 1827, where for over 100 years businessmen gathered to trade cotton, sugar, coal and iron. Many, like Exchange founder James Ewing of Strathleven, owned or profited from the labour of enslaved people on the sugar and tobacco plantations in the American colonies and West Indies. 

The display continues with innovations such as one of Glasgow’s first telephone exchanges, housed in the building from 1880 and records the iconic Duke of Wellington statue being erected outside in 1884. Glasgow Corporation purchased the building in 1954. Its first civic use was as a library, containing both the Stirling and Commercial Library collections. Stones Steeped in History then chronicles the building’s key role in Glasgow’s rise as a centre for art and culture, which began in the 1970’s.      

Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor David McDonald, said: “We are pleased to open Stones Steeped in History and share a few of this historic building’s stories, including its undeniable ties to slavery. GoMA has been a home, a bank, an exchange, a library and is now a respected gallery of modern and contemporary art. This building’s stones really are steeped in history.

“This exhibition records some of the key events in the cultural development of Glasgow. Importantly it continues to tell the story of Glasgow’s links to the slave trade, by providing a fuller appreciation of the part slavery played in the narrative of the city and how important that is not only to the past, but also to the future.”

Glasgow had a reputation as a tough city, but always running alongside this has been a history of innovation and creativity. In the 1970s, Glasgow City Council recognised how culture could be used to re-frame the city’s reputation. The first major project was the creation of a new museum to hold Sir William Burrell’s gift to the city – his collection of over 9,000 objects. The Burrell Collection opened in 1983, to international acclaim. The Garden Festival followed in 1988, attracting over 4 million visitors and in 1990 Glasgow won the title of European Capital of Culture, changing its cultural standing forever. Glasgow and the artists who have emerged from it are now acknowledged around the world and the city boasts one of the finest civic art collections in Europe.

The Mitchell Library opened in 1911, incorporating much of the book collection housed in the building. Stirling’s Library remained until work began on the Gallery of Modern Art in 1994. GoMA opened in 1996, under the leadership of then Director of Museums Julian Spalding. It had six galleries, five showing works from the permanent collection, with one for exhibitions. Spalding’s vision was quite radical – to display only works by living artists – but his selection of artists was met with dismay by the artistic community. Glasgow Museums’ current approach to collecting and commissioning is quite different and now focuses on building the collection and important social justice and human rights issues. Curators continue to collect and commission work by artists with a Glasgow connection. Visitors can see displays of local and international artworks from the collection as well as temporary exhibitions and artist events across the building’s four galleries.  The basement is home to a library and café, there is a shop and artists workspace on the top floor.

Stones Steeped in History is located on two balconies across level 1 and 2 at GoMA.  The display covers the period from when the first building appeared in the 1700s up to the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art in 1996. It highlights some of the significant dates and functions in the history of the venue, alongside some key points in the cultural development of Glasgow.  It is open now.  The exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous donations from the 3.1 million visitors who visit Glasgow Museums every year. For more information on Glasgow Museums visit www.glasgowmuseums.com

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