My temporary home in Glasgow this week faced Garnethill, where I was anxious to see what was going on at the Glasgow School of Art after the terrible fire at the end of May. Following the initial shock of the news, glass-half-full reports pointed out that despite the loss of the library, a large part of the structure had been saved ; I was reminded of the Church of Scotland’s motto Nec tamen consumebatur (“yet it was not consumed”). However, seeing the great building for the first time since the fire, I gasped at the sight of the damage, and recalled news footage of GSA’s chair Muriel Gray on that day, uncharacteristically in tears.
Scaffolding was being erected when we visited; it’s going to be a huge job. But many inspired yet practical gestures have followed the fire. People on-site told us that, after the work of final-year students went up in flames, these artists have been offered an extra year’s study, with some major European art schools even housing them and their work free of charge. There’s a very well organised appeal for donations of volumes which were destroyed in the library (time to rummage in your loft for that unwanted copy of Der blaue Reiter Almanach). I came away with the sense that, dreadful event though this has been, there will be a very effective response.
I didn’t feel quite so confident after my visit to the Burrell Collection. In 1983 Glasgow’s civic authorities created a purpose-built new museum in Pollok Park for this tremendous art bequest – I clearly remember the thrill of this major act of civic benificence, which in retrospect looks like the first major step leading away and upwards from Glasgow’s post-industrial doldrums. But, thirty years later, the roof is leaking and the wonderful museum looks battered. The collection will soon close for four years’ worth of expensive repairs. The Scottish Government have authorised a world tour for bits of the collection, which is intended to cover some of the cost. I hope it all works out. Civic benificence is not what it was thirty years ago; nor are there many generous art-loving industrialists like Sir William Burrell around any more.