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Kelvingrove 2006/07/23

Posted by Dave in Reviews.
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We decided to pay a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and set off in the afternoon heat through the busy traffic. We still cannot get across the railway at Crossmyloof, so it was north along the A77 then over the Clyde, then west along the Broomielaw and past the new bridge (not finished yet), north to Anderston and west to try to get parked as near as possible.

I used to visit Kelvingrove two or three times a month, sometimes more — but things have changed. Maybe it was because it was a sunny and hot Saturday during the school holidays, or maybe it was because it had just re-opened, I don’t know — but it was just soooo very busy!

We slowly drove in (the car park used to be both adequate and free), but even though the car park had been enlarged, it was full and you have to ‘pay-and-display’ now anyway. We drove out and found a free space in the next street and walked back with the baby in the pram.

We went in the back entrance with the pram, avoiding the revolving doors, and got the surprisingly small lift up to the so-called ground floor. The back is not the best way to enter the building; it’s not at all impressive. Part of the refurb seems to have been to badly paint the cellar’s brick work with white emulsion. It has already got dirty and bit have flaked off. The detail is poor, I am sad to report… I mean to say, this was an expensive refurbishment that took three years — where did the money and the extra fund-raised money go?

It certainly did not go on air conditioning! Ruth complained that this was the hottest museum and art gallery she has visited anywhere in the world — including hot countries! I spotted missed grout, poor pointing, remnants of glue and varnish, dripped paint, chipped tiles, ill-fitting blinds, and partially finished displays. It was already beginning to look like it needed a refurbishment!

I remember spending hours with my sketchpad inside the cool, peaceful and quiet interior. It had the feel of a church or cathedral about it, it demanded respect and good behaviour “sssssssh”… you would never be able to do that anymore. I noticed that the Dali was back and in it’s original place… that seems to be a popular choice — and they seem to have decided not to bother protecting this painting in any special way, which I found surprising to be honest. It was better protected when it was housed in the Religious Museum at St Mungo’s Protestant Cathedral. It seems incredible, but when the picture was vandalised, it was in this exact same place! Crazy!

I really missed the familiar old stuff — but I can see what they are trying to achieve — the displays were more packed together, arranged in a more modern way and with a lot of information and colourful displays — it is definitely intended to be educational and aimed at kids. The old Kelvingrove just existed as it was: a museum (which is a very British, and typically Victorian institution), filled with things unknown from the four corners of the British Empire — you needed a guide, you needed to ask, look up, be told or guess things. Now, paintings are not merely labelled, but explained!

The overall impression now is of a lot of things closely packed together — and that includes the visitors! I noticed more toilets (some of which were already out of order), and more shops. No-one seemed to have headphones on for translations, and everything was in English…. yet there were a lot of foreign tongues heard around the place. The visitors seemed to be made up of tourists and the curious (rather than lovers of the arts and humanities); not a sketch pad in sight, and no sign of a tour guide either.

Even though I have been a frequent visitor for over thirty years now, I got completely lost and disoriented! It has to be one of the most confusing and complicated buildings ever! I suppose a couple of visits will sort it out, but for the first time visitor it must be crazy! To be honest, it seemed like a very small and cramped gallery, and it is only after a wander that you realise that there is far more to it than you thought! We missed ‘Ancient Egypt’, but this is because it is in a corner of “West: Life” on the Ground Level behind the out of order disabled toilets!

[Picture of Spitfire inside Kelvingrove]The Spitfire was good — I wonder how they got it inside and strung up? But it was ‘flying’ above a stuffed giraffe, a stuffed elephant (Sir Roger) and loads of other stuffed creatures on a central plinth table. It just seemed busy and cramped, with the visitors walking around the perimeter.

[Picture of heads inside Kelvingrove]They did not just use use more floor space, but the air as well — the spitfire for one, but there were heads too! A flying crowd! Aaaaargh! It was all rather too much!

The hoardes teemed around the central café space, so we decided to leave for refreshments, exiting from the front door. Despite being aimed at children, it was not very pram-friendly it has to be said, even though the place was filled with kids and toddlers, prams were being carried up the steps! Ruth was amazed that the children’s interactive displays were already broken!

We had to keep a very close eye on Olivia, because a lot of things were within her reach, and we couldn’t bear it if she were to break some ancient artefact!  In fact we were arther amazed at the number of toddlers attempting to climb onto the displays… I toyed with the notion of actually putting Olivia up on the plinth to run among the stuffed wolves and birds! Ha! That would show them! But I didn’t; someone else can show them the error of their ways!

Another thing I noticed was the re-arrangement of stock from the Religious Museum, the People’s Palace and the Gallery of Modern Art!  I recognised a lot of stuff that was never intended for or shown in Kelvingrove before — why take all the best stuff from the other galleries?  I fail to see why the Gallery of Modern Art should suffer — is it not the whole point of a Modern Art Gallery to have modern stuff, and for the museum to have mummies and classic paintings, furniture, costumes and scultures?  Where is the demarkation?

My hope is that things will eventually calm down, and it will once again be a place to visit for some peace and quiet away from the hurly burly of city life and work!

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