After a two-year period of redesign, the Life gallery at Kelvingrove museum finally reopened to the public a few weeks ago. Even with its closure, the museum still managed to attract 1.5 million visitors last year, but the exhibition’s return has been received with great anticipation and excitement by visitors.
The reopening of the gallery included the homecoming of sorely missed residents like Sir Roger the Elephant who stands proudly in the museum’s West Court, as well as the return of the giant Spitfire that hangs from its ceiling. The revamped exhibit displays animals and artefacts from every corner of the globe and colourfully depicts the relationship between the land and its inhabitants. In particular, it dedicates a large portion of its space to the history of Scotland, from its first inhabitants arriving from northwest Europe over 10,000 years ago to its current industry and culture.
Kelvingrove is divided into two categories: ‘Life’ on one side and ‘Expression’ on the other. These displays are organised by 22 themes and together encompass over 8,000 objects, though the Life gallery is unapologetically family-focused. Children can be seen playing freely in the environmental discovery centre, peering down microscopes and gasping at live bees at work. As you walk around the gallery, scenes of tuition are everywhere between children and parents, interactive screens and information labels.
Unfortunately, the excited din of children in the revamped Life gallery carries into the rest of the museum. In exhibits that commanded a sense of stillness and more silent reflection, you can still hear children in the west court scurrying from one taxidermy to another. There’s also something incongruous about overhearing a restless child be reprimanded in front of Dali’s ‘Christ of St John’. This strange hybrid of reverence and reproval makes for a kind of confusing atmosphere.
That being said, there is something quite refreshing in watching a child interact with what is perhaps incorrectly seen as ‘highbrow’ art. For every art buff tilting their head thoughtfully in front of the statue of Mercury, there is a child pointing and laughing at the naked 6ft anatomy standing before them. Plus, at Kelvingrove, you can literally be within inches of these remarkably tall sculptures and paintings. You can have your photo taken beneath a soaring albatross, directly beside Churchill or pointing back at Saint Elvis. Ironically, this vast space offers a real sense of intimacy uncommon in museums and major tourist attractions.
The space itself is a palace of choice. You can listen to daily organ recitals in the centre hall for free, visit the cafe and use its free wifi or wander around the classic Victorian park sitting outside the museum’s backdoor. In short, Kelvingrove offers an enjoyable and thoroughly recommended pole-to-pole experience for children and adults alike.
Next week marks the beginning of the annual Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. From 19 January until 5 February, more than 2,000 musicians from across the world will perform at various venues across the city, and with hundreds of performances scheduled, you won’t be short of options. Catch a panel discussion about music and gender on 20 January, or the latest project from Calum MacCrimmon and John Mulhearn’s Big Music Society on the 21st. You might even see me at Admiral Fallow’s acoustic set at the o2 ABC on the 29th. To see the full what’s on guide, click here