{Scotland} Day Trip to Glasgow

August 14, 2011


Last month I took a trip to Glasgow to visit Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery and the new Riverside Museum. I’d visited Kelvingrove before, and I’d had a sneak preview of the almost-but-not-quite-finished Riverside Museum, but this was my chance to see them again before leaving the country later this summer.


As I’ve admitted before, I’m not a huge art person and, given the choice, prefer museums with “stuff”, and on my past visits to Kelvingrove I’d mostly stuck to the “Museum” side of it. So, this time I deliberately chose the “Art Gallery” side, and actually spent about half my visit in just the one gallery: “Looking at Art”. The gallery felt like it was aimed at children and families, with its fairly simple language, short chunks of text, and questions to think about, but that did not make it any less engaging. And for an art shy adult like myself it was perfect, e.g. one of the exhibits takes you through how to ‘read’ a really busy looking painting. In fact, there was a whole section about “The Art of Looking”, which was sub-divided into art featuring people, places, events and things. There was also a series of hand boards covering topics such as “How to artists use shapes/ paint textures/ colour/ lines?” or “How do artists paint distance/ stories?” They were all exemplified by art on display in the gallery, so you could take the hand boards round with you to look at the relevant paintings.

One of the most interesting sections was all about “The Art of Conservation”. It looked at how time, people, museums and damage changes paintings, from getting darker and flatter over time or people changing colours, editing things out and adding things in, to museums retouching and piecing images back together or paintings becoming casualties of war and acts of vandalism. One painting was exhibited half cleaned, to show the different stages between removing dirt, then varnish, to finally revealing the original – seeing all three stages next to each other on the same painting really showed what a difference the restoration makes. On a touch screen you could also select a number of videos exemplifying all the other causes, with ‘before and after’ footage for each one. Another interesting section was called “Investigating Art”, which looked at the secrets and stories art can reveal, e.g. the case of Edinburgh artist Anne Redpath who was short of supplies when she visited Paris in 1948, right after World War II, so she just used the back of a previous painting to do another one.

Other sections in the gallery included “Art Through a Lens”, which looked at the art of photography and how photographers compose their pictures;  “The Natural World”, which looked at how photographers specifically capture things like wildlife and landscapes but also weather phenomena or stars and galaxies; and a section on Glasgow born but little known artist John Quinton Pringle (1864 – 1925), who was an optician by trade but was a passionate and talented artist in his free time – “his unique way of painting, with lots of tiny dots, was probably inspired by his work as an optician”.

I did spend some more time in one of the other galleries, called “Every Picture Tells a Story” with the tag line “…if you know how to read it”, which followed on neatly from what I’d seen in “Looking at Art”. They had some very neat and fun interactives in the gallery, all about stories. One was centred around a painting showing a wealthy but bored couple being served dinner by their butler. The painting is surround by three displays made to look like thought bubbles, and on a touch screen you can type in what you think they are saying which will then appear on the relevant displays. Another interactive was a quick to find your ideal man, which accompanied a painting of a young lady going for a walk with two gentlemen. Two be honest though, neither sounded like a great catch, with a choice between kind and considerate but a bit wet and boring farmer John, or gentleman of fortune and good catch Robert, with an eye for drinking, gambling and flirting with the ladies.


Having spent more time than I’d scheduled at Kelvingrove, partly due to being drawn into a lunchtime organ recital in the main hall, I headed over to the Riverside Museum. If I had thought it was busy at the preview I’d been to, I was in for a surprise as it was absolutely heaving – both inside and out! It was impossible to get close to any of the exhibits properly, let alone read the info on the touch screens or use the interactives, which had families queuing up by the dozen. So I contented myself with wandering around the parts that I hadn’t seen before, since some of it had been cordoned off at the preview, and soaking up the atmosphere of the building. New stuff I hadn’t seen at the preview included prams, an ambulance, crash test dummies and a section on air travel security. There were also a couple of viewing platforms you could go up to, as well as going inside a number of trains, tubes, buses etc. I even managed to have a go on the ‘wall of bikes’ quiz, where you need to guess which of the bikes on display e.g. had the largest engine, was driven most recently, or is the longest. My only minor criticism was about the question “biggest wow factor”, which according to the quiz I got wrong, but surely that’s a quite subject matter? Other than that it was fun. In fact, the whole museum looks like great fun and I’d definitely like to visit again when it’s less busy.

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