Wednesday, 28 March 2012

George Wyllie: A Life Less Ordinary


Collins Gallery, University of Strathclyde
March 10th-April 21st 2012
4 stars
Environmental art may be all the rage these days, but, as with the soon 
to be moth-balled Collins Gallery, George Wyllie was way ahead of the 
curve. While best known for huge public spectacles The Straw Locomotive 
and The Paper Boat, as well as fully-fledged stage show with actor Bill 
Paterson, A Day Down A Goldmine, this huge archive of small works and 
papers, posters and other ephemera taps into the ever enquiring mind of 
the now ninety-year old polymath, who was reimagining Glasgow long 
before the cultural tsars moved in to take the credit.

Having first exhibited his self-semanticised Scul?tors at The Collins 
in 1976, with other shows following in 1981 and 2005, it's fitting that 
the venue's last ever show show be the launchpad for the inaugural 
event of the Glasgow-wide Whysman Festival to celebrate Wyllie's nutty 
professor-like take on the world.

Perennially captured in perma-smiling photographs sporting overalls and 
bunnet, Wyllie may appear somewhere between Oor Wullie, Tom Weir and 
Ivor Cutler, but file him as a ukulele-playing novelty act at your 
peril. In his use of outdoor spaces, a (post) industrial tool-kit and 
playfully serious critique of capitalism in A Day Down A Goldmine, 
captured on film by Murray Grigor, Wyllie is an equal to and as deeply 
serious as Joseph Beuys,  with whom he worked, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and 
indeed Angus Farquhar's NVA Organisation, who picked up his mantle.

The Great Bum Steers that have allowed Strathclyde University 
pen-pushers to close down the Collins and the Scottish Government to 
introduce Public Entertainment Licence legislation that would 
effectively outlaw Wyllie's work should be noted. This lovingly 
gathered and utterly humane collection is a serious word to the Whys.

The List, March 2012

ends

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