A real Turner round for Glasgow's image; The Turner Prize exhibition is being held in Scotland for the first time. ALEX DUDOK DE WIT visits host city Glasgow where the arts scene is flourishing.
I hesitate: surely she doesn't mean the graffitied portrait of the Rasta smoking a joint or the small mound of bricks topped with a fraying bin bag? What is art nowadays, anyway? And then I spot it, a vertical sign, black against a faded grey building, displaying six white capital letters in mirror image: "EMPIRE".
It calls up vague memories of a similar sign in Hitchcock's Vertigo, or the Merchant City's associations with the slave trade.
"It's a Douglas Gordon installation," explains my guide. Like the trademark red sandstone of its buildings, public art colours the streets of Glasgow. Some is made by established names like Gordon, the irreverent Glaswegian video artist; some, such as the remarkable murals that dot Mitchell Street, is the work of amateurs.
Some is beautiful, some bracingly crude. Some is on full display, while some, like the "EMPIRE" sign, needs to be sought out. But it all points to a brilliantly creative expression in a city containing Europe's largest collection of civic art. This is important because it counters the tired stereotypes: images of a crime-ridden, hard-drinking cultural wasteland.
The arrival of the Turner Prize, that great promoter of artistic talent and provoker of public outrage, may mark a turning point. Indeed, its judges have been doing more than anyone else to put Glasgow on the cultural map - artists based in the city make the shortlist of four almost every year, and routinely win (Gordon was awarded the gong in 1996).
To understand it, one might start with a visit to the Glasgow School of Art. Its complex of studios and research centres draws in talent from across the world, and consistently turns out successful artists, including four of the last ten Turner Prize winners.
Pride in their city is palpable among students, who run insightful tours of its art and architecture. Crucially, cheap rents encourage many to stay after their studies, ensuring a fruitful mingling of recent graduates and high-profile alumni.
"That's the thing: we all know each other," says Calum Matheson, a painter and ex-GSA student based in the West End's SWG3 studios.
As we talk, Matheson shows me around the sprawling studios, which house some 120 artists in a former warehouse and under railway arches (leased from Network Rail for PS1 a year). A bustling bag makers' atelier neighbours a graphic design studio, its walls adorned with literary quotes in esoteric typefaces.
Next door, the 120-capacity Poetry Club, created by pop-obsessed visual artist and former Turner nominee Jim Lambie, puts on regular spoken word and club nights.
"All the Glasgow old guard come back to play here," Matheson tells me. "Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, even Primal Scream - those guys barely fit on stage."
With its whitewashed cement walls and bared ventilation, SWG3 embodies the spirit of the new Glasgow; the transition from industry to culture.
This story of regeneration is playing out across the city, from the scuzzy-chic West End to the spirited Speirs Lock district. Here, on the bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal, sits The Glue Factory. Its labyrinthine venue encompasses studios, galleries and performance spaces. Visual art is combined with music, sometimes in one installation. In the first gallery I'm greeted by a puppet parade of headless army drummers who mechanically beat their instruments at intervals.
Like SWG3, The Glue Factory has close ties to the GSA. And like SWG3, it makes an aesthetic virtue of its rusty furnishings and crumbling industrial infrastructure.
"I think 1990 was the turning point," suggests one of the venue's student volunteers, referring to the year in which Glasgow was designated the European Capital of Culture. The groundwork had already begun in the late Eighties, with the opening of landmark centres such as the cavernous Tramway, and the Glasgow Sculpture Studios, which faces The Glue Factory across the canal.
But the people I speak to agree that the activities of 1990 gave the arts scene a much-needed confidence boost.
In the years since, cultural venues - mainstream, pop-up, big and small alike - have proliferated, and the number of live performances in the city has roughly doubled.
And now those decades of expansion are crowned by hosting the Turner Prize in a rare year with no Glaswegian nominees.
The prize has thrown the city's cultural scene into the limelight, renewing local interest in its museums and drawing tourists to its studios and galleries.
Glasgow the industrial powerhouse is dead. But Glasgow the creative hub has come of age.
NEED TO KNOW Alex | Dudok de Wit was a guest of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau - see www.peoplemakeglasgow.com The Turner Prize exhibition |will be on display at Tramway until January 17. Entrance is free. Visit www.tramway.org
| The home of art - Glasgow's SWG3 studios and, inset top, the |Tramway entrance; left, a guide highlights an artwork during a GSA Glasgow Style city walking tour and, below, inside the SWG3