The Local’s Guide to Glasgow International

Glasgow International is in full swing. Experience the best of the festival with Elephant’s guide written by certified Glasgow local, Lisette May Monroe.

It’s hard to believe, but here we are again. Glasgow International, Scotland’s biennial festival for contemporary art (more commonly known as GI to locals like me), is upon us, and under the new directorship of Richard Birkett (former chief curator of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts) the city is bulging with exhibitions, projects, events and obviously… parties. As the Art World group-chats of anyone that lives south of the border become rife with itineraries, drinks plans and the ongoing riddle of the weekend’s ‘coat situation’ we step into the abyss of light nights, quick pints and the inevitable scenario that we will see at least 20 curators going the wrong way on the ancient tube system (it’s a loop, by the way, so just wait and you will end up in the right place eventually). As someone who has called Glasgow home for the past 10 years, I have tried my best to suggest some routes and some exhibitions outside (or if you are Scottish, outwith) the GI guide. 

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Glasgow Loves Margs‘, Photograph taken by the author.

As some things in this guide are pop-up shows, with many of them taking place in flats or warehouse spaces, the opening times vary. In Glasgow, we are lucky to have the ultimate resource at hand, Glasgow Art Map, which has all the addresses, times, dates and preview information you will need to keep you right. Alternatively, follow the line of people looking slightly confused in trench coats carrying tote bags (yes, sorry, I know, me and tote bags–I will get over it). 

This is a long one, so settle in. 

West End

Start as you mean to go on, and by that, I mean well-fuelled by picking up a coffee and a pastry from Cottonrake Bakery on Byres Road (everything is delicious but the lemon tart goes beyond), then head round to Cathy Wilkes at The Hunterian. From here you can either jump on whatever transport is your preferred poison, or you can walk via Kelvingrove Park and the river to put you in the meditative mindset to attend either the Laurence Abu Hamdan or STASIS events at SWG3, which will be taking place over the opening weekend. While you’re there you can also catch Martin Beck’s 13 hour video-work Last Night. I say catch, as, given the running time, it will be hard to miss! The work is based on the 119 songs played by David Mancuso at his penultimate loft party at the legendary 99 Prince Street in New York and will no doubt get you in the party mood. 

‘Gloriosa candle after a huge gossip debrief’, photograph taken by the author.

City Centre

Moving on, it’s time to head towards the City Centre. If you’re hungry on the way you can grab something from one of Finnieston’s many sort-of fine coffee shops. If you’re still in treat-mode after your morning pastry, a couple of small plates and a cocktail from Gloriosa is an up-scale lunchtime choice. You are bound to see at least one member of the Glasgow West End art crowd deep in conversation over a plate of zesty carrot and dip (it will have a more appetising name on the menu). 

As you hit the edge of the centre you will encounter one of Glasgow’s many libraries. This one, The Mitchell Library, is big and it’s fit. Each floor has its own impressive and well-documented carpet. Glasgow-based artist Joey Simons’ Beyond The Forbidden Gate is presented across 4 libraries, the culmination presented here in the Mitchell. This new body of work explores the parameters of urban development in North Glasgow and incorporates touchstones of Simon’s practice through forms of organising, collaboration, textual research and poetry. 

Just up the road is Glasgow’s CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) where Thomas Abercromby is guest curating the School of Mutants’ presentation, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, a research project between Glasgow and Dakar. The project explores the creation, dissemination and diversification of knowledge. Upstairs in the Intermedia Gallery, Seif Eddine Jlassi and Mousa AlNana present HOW IF WHEN, a collection of artworks born from the creative expressions of children living in a refugee camp. The CCA also recently re-opened their upstairs bar called The Third Eye. It has one of the few outside terraces in the city, and it gets the sun just right. 

Taking our first dip outside the GI programme, we saunter down to 32 Washington Street for

Josie Perry, Sam Keogh & Tai Shani’s Legendary Psychasthenia. Then, popping next door to  The Pentagon Centre, Amelia Barratt, Ayla Dmyterko, Jonathan Gowing, Sam Keogh, Alexis Mackenzie, Dan Miller and Toby Patterson present Seasons Reverse

If by now you are looking for sustenance, Singl-End in Garnethill has the usual brunch bits, while the likes of long-standing bars further into town, such as Stereo or The Old Hairdressers, are always on hand for pints and wines. If you are still keeping things fancy, the champagne bar in Glasgow Central train station, Champagne Central, does what you’d expect, with cocktails as well on the menu. There you’ll get the perfect vantage point for looking out over the train station and hopefully get to see someone absolutely going off on one of those free pianos which have now taken root in stations across the country. 

‘Remember it’s a loop – one train goes round it one way, one the other, you can’t go wrong.’ Photograph taken by the author.

In the heart of the city centre are two big hitters: Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and The Modern Institute. Close by, there’s the arts complex by the name of Trongate 103, which houses Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow Print Studios and the long run artist-led space Glasgow Project Rooms, who have a new show Canvassing by Masaki Ishikawa (expect: digital and physical explorations of intimacy). Project Ability is also situated there, their exhibition programme always a must. This year for GI they have a solo exhibition from Jonathan McKinstry, who fills the gallery with paintings of iconic characters such as Darth Vader or the Care Bears. Nearby, and iconic in its own right, is the great quick lunch spot, Shawarma King. They serve delicious takeaway breads, kebabs and falafels to keep you going right through the day. There is also a new (and always packed) doughnut shop in the arch next door. But if you’re in the coffee and focaccia squad be sure to swing by Outlier before hitting Glasgow’s long serving book institution Good Press. Take a big bag and make sure to wipe your sandwichy hands before you go in. 

For more substantial central eats, my top spots are: Non Viet for Vietnamese, Loon Fung for lunch time Dim Sum, Mosub for the best Ethiopian in Glasgow, and Sugo for quick and filling pasta. 

Moving over the river and away from the centre, set off from St Enoch Square to take yourself past the Glasgow Hootenany pub (which has one of the most bizarre wall murals of Billy Connolly by none other than Jack Vettriano). You will cross the River Clyde on the pedestrian bridge and land at Carlton Place, where there are two exhibitions: David Byrd’s Scroll, Flask and Hand at 42 Carlton Place and IT’S NOT A PILL I NEED BUT A SEWER TO JUMP IN by Glasgow-based Fritz Welch at Headspace, 46 Carlton Place. Fritz’s heady mix of performance, sound and sculpture is always raw and engaging. Around the corner,  Kendall Koppe presents a new exhibition titled By Vital Means: Songs in the Key of Spirulina by painter Francisco G. Pinzón Samper (one of my must-sees of the festival). 

Another block past the newly located Namak Mandi (great for a curry pit stop) you will find yourself at the Patricia Fleming Gallery. Their GI offering is Sooun Kim’s Echoes. Lastly, in this mega voyage, head to the multi-show venue Florence Street featuring the incredible works of Sandra George.  George’s archive of social commentary photography has been thoughtfully represented here by curator Jenny Brownrigg and director Rachel Cloughton,  giving space to George’s experience as a Black female photographer. Elsewhere in the building there is Wah Yen, a new moving image work by Wei Zang and fir gorma, a new collaborative installation by artists Josie KO and Kialy Tihngang which incorporates sculptures, water features and film works. Lastly in Florence Street you can see  I’m attended as a portal myself, an exhibition by Bobbi Cameron and Owain Train McGilvary, with both artists presenting film works exploring rural cultural memories, forgotten pasts and imagined worlds. In other words, Florence Street seems set to be a banger and is definitely worth dedicating a serious amount of time to. 

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‘Pub Salad (aka Emergency Tea)’, Photograph taken by the author.

After all this action, a sit down is much needed (make sure you grab cash throughout the day as my next two recommendations are cash only). I recommend you double-back slightly and first pick up a pint at Sharkey’s before moving along to Glasgow’s legendary The Laurieston (as featured in Succession) where you can bring your own food in from the takeaway over the road. Put some songs on the free jukebox and take a photo of the cherry woman to break up all the art on your Instagram stories. 

East End

The East End is packed this year, with GI’s Open Programme shows at Glasgow Women’s Library, the relative newcomer known as Listen Gallery—a space dedicated to experimental sound art—and David Dale Gallery. David Dale has two shows this year: Minnie Kerston in the main gallery and brother/sister duo, Florence and Jacob Dwyer, in the warehouse space. The Dwyer’s show features audio works from Jacob, paired with ceramic sculptures from Florence, Another not-to-be-missed grouper is nearby at The Pipe Factory, where Emelia Kerr Beale, Suds McKenna, Josie Perry, Jonny Walker present Where a castle meets the sky It’s a busy GI for Josie Perry, who is also featuring in the previously mentioned show at Washington Street and it’s worth seeing them both! 

With regards to independent projects, one I am truly hyped for is Patrick McAlindon, Julia Gilmour and Hayley Tompkins’ NOT 2NIGHT at 45 Alexandra Park Street. I have been a long standing fan of McAlindon and Gilmour’s paintings, and this show also features a video work by Tompkins which she made when she lived in 45 Alexandra Park Street in 2008. Also at Strangefield’s French Street space there is Flywheel, a premiere of Harriet Rickard’s new film, which takes you through movement, memory and features a hauntingly sweet scene of a sleeping dog. 

For some East End eats  you should consider swinging by the italian favourites Celinos and Coia’s for some sit down time (both have takeaway delis if you’re on the go). 

Photograph taken by the author


Next we move south. Glasgow’s Southside is probably home to more Turner Prize nominees than any other postcode in the UK. It also definitely has more mullets per capita (these two things are not related). Here we have a slew of artist-led projects and apartment shows but first the GI Programme highlights: 

We start at Tramway and their main room presentation by British artist Delaine Le Bas titled Delainia: 17071965 Unfolding. I make no bones about how much I love Le Bas and I am excited to see how her work will expand into Tramway’s  cavernous space. At Tramway there are also two exhibitions by Glasgow-based artists Camera Taylor and Tako Taal. Taylor’s work incorporates collaborations with 皚桐 (Ai Túng), Sharif Elsabagh and Slaghammers. Meanwhile, Tako Taal presents After Kinte, a newly-commissioned performance building on research into the format of actors’ roundtables. Just around the corner, Katie Orton, Ariane Jackson, Shona MacNaughton, Laura Haynes, Chris Walker and Casey Miller have put together Kitchen Island at St Ninians Church. 

Moving deeper south, within less-than a one mile radius we have Glasgow beloved’s Gallery Celine, who this year is working with abstract painter Sarah Cameron for her new exhibition Black Socks, No Panties! / The Stone Bouquet from Cologne. Mere seconds away, Ivory Tars hosts Nicole-Antonia Spagnola, whose previous film and installation works often take expanded references that cross both century’s and culture’s. At the specialist arts organisation Offline they are screening a moving-image work by Mina Heydari-Waite, titled Farang / فرنگ, and at Rumpus Room—an artist-led initiative working in collaboration with children and young people—an exhibit by Saffa Khan, Hussein Mitha, Nadia Rossi, Angel Walker, and Holly White will be available. 

‘Queens Park at dusk, Imagine walking through this park but a man is just playing Despacito x infinity.’ Photograph taken by the author.

If the Rumpus Room show has piqued your need for the natural environment, take a walk through Queen’s Park and up to the recently reopened Glasshouse where Laura Lulika, Hang Linton, Jack Murphy and Clay AD bring us into their Unnatural* Urges

Still in this one-mile radius (!!!) there are a wealth of independent shows in domestic spaces, including Jamie Crewe’s stunning new exhibition of paintings, inscribed lead and an aeolian harp, Defixiones at Radclyffe Hall. Then there’s Jennifer Aldred, Roanna Holmes-Frodsham and Renata Lucia Ottati’s new exhibition Dusty (hot on the heels of their previous and popular show Popcorn earlier this year) at 318 Langside Road. Isabella Widger, Victoria Smith (who’s exhibition at Celine last year was a knockout) and Roisin Rowe present Mary Mary Mary at Flat 1/1, 6 Ardberg St., while Reed Hexamer, Douglas Rogerson, Albertina Tevajärvi and Isaac Willis present Ghost Image at 3/3, 13 Mannering Rd. (See the Glasgow Art Map for all opening times). 

Food-wise (you’re doing well, keep going!), grab a hangover-curing bacon roll for breakfast from Continental Cafe, then nip next door to Short Long Black for a coffee. For a sit-down breakfast don’t miss the sparkling hospitality from Graham and Graham at Fulton’s. Hit Pakistani Street Food for pretty much anything, it’s all great. There’s Kurdish for more falafel. For brunch, there’s Sunnyacre, as featured in The Guardian 100 times – I personally am in love with the quiche, I actually have a slice once a week and every year on my birthday. Transylvania Cafe for the vibes and wild seasonal external displays. Big Counter if you need another fancy and small plates related option. 

As for drinks, a quick caveat: no matter where you go in the Southside you will see either someone you know, someone you’ve slept with or someone you just saw in one of the many exhibitions I just mentioned. It is inescapable, but at this point just give in to it. For pints there’s Queens Park Cafe (recently redecorated so enjoy that), The Rose Reilly, The Bell Jar, The Allison Arms, Ryan’s Bar for a cocktail… I could go on. Also it’s mango season so many of the shops will have the big mango sign outside. 

‘My Favourite Glasgow Window’, photograph taken by the author.

Our final stop (you’re doing amazing sweetie) is Govan, where we first have Anticipate, sublimate from Alexis Kyle Mitchell and Ima-Abasi Okon at 83 Portman Street. Mitchell is presenting a new hour long film The Treasury of Human Inheritance about the experience of living with and alongside disease and disability. Okon is revisiting a 2022 installation and I can’t wait to see how these works speak to each other.  

For our last trip to independent-project-land there is the Govan Project Space, who is inviting the Charity Gallery to present the group show Would you be worried if one of these Scottish people ceased to exist? Lastly we have Feed The Hand That Bites You, at The Revelator at 739 South Street, which will host a new show every 24 hours throughout the course of GI, with a long list of participants (all of whom had applications rejected from the main GI programme). A particular highlight will be Steven Robertson’s show Pure Magic on the 13th June. The Revelator is also situated very near the site of the doomed Willy Wonka Experience, if you followed that story (which of course you did).

 And on to the roundup. More general recommendations include samosa salads; the guy that repeatedly plays Despacito in Queens Park; parks in general; not getting caught drinking alcohol in the street (it’s an immediate fine); ice cream from one of the old Italian ice cream shops; chips, cheese and gravy; chatting to anyone because a lot of people in the street love a chat; and lastly, something which is an absolute essential in Glasgow… Karaoke. The Star Bar (Southside) is famous for it as is Cosmopol and the Winds (both Central), but if you’re looking for the real pros, head upstairs in the Horseshoe Bar by Central Station – and plan to stay for a long time. The last time I was there a guy who must have been knocking 75 did Bad Medicine on a table while throwing packs of paracetamol into the crowd. If you want something more audio focussed but Listen Gallery and endless karaoke aren’t quite enough, be sure to check out Radio Buena Vida and Clyde Built Radio: both have an amazing roster of residents and provide the perfect soundtrack for navigating the city. 

‘Sky Saltire, we have actually hired planes to do this for the whole of GI.’ Photograph taken by the author.

There is so much to see, and Glasgow is a city with an excellent reputation for warm hospitality. Just be prepared for plans to change, to get caught up, to get rained on (maybe). I love having guests in Glasgow, the art scene loves having guests in Glasgow and, yes, when anyone goes anywhere it’s natural to make comparisons to where you come from. All I’m asking is this: come visit, have a great time, see some art, enjoy whatever parts of that you want. But don’t sit in the pub and talk about rent prices, taxi prices and how the rumours aren’t true because it always seems to be sunny when you come to town. We know. We live here. 

See yous on the circuit! 

Written by Lisette May Monroe