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Floating heads of Kelvingrove signify new century thinking behind redesign

Posted by: Creativematch Graduate Recruitment

Date added: Thu 27 Jul 2006

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, the most visited museum in the UK outside London, has reopened this month after a £27.9million refurbishment and stunning new displays delivered by Events Communciations.

Floating heads of Kelvingrove signify new century thinking behind redesign

Kelvingrove has always been a popular musuem attracting more than 1m people a year through the doors of the Victorian building. But since its reopening this month, after a three-year, multi-million pound refurbishment, record numbers of visitors have been flocking in to experience the 21st Century approach brought to bear by Event Communication - the brains behind the £7m stunning new displays.

Over the first three days of the opening, almost 55,000 people witnessed the exciting and innovative displays including the wondrous hanging heads which look set to become the museum's signature image.

The success of the displays can only be measured in the visitor responses, says Events team leader Esther Dugdale. And there have been some delightful ones:

Look... I am swimming in colour cries a young child doing breast stroke motions with his arms and legs as he sprawls on his tummy on a large floor graphic of a blown-up detail of a painting. Another youngster, quietly but firmly, declines to move from her seat next to Sir Roger the Elephant as she gazes up at him for more than an hour. Wonderful I am going to come every day, laughs an elderly lady.  

The displays are clearly making a difference to people of all ages. It was also a life-changing experience for Esther  - not least because it  was created on an excruciatingly tight budget and 'a gruelling timetable'.

Working alongside Esther and Event's project team were Glasgow Museum's Anthony McReavy and Anne Perry. 

Event's imaginative and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of displaying such wide ranging and diverse collections has been key to the success of the presentations and their enjoyment.

Their concept for the heads was to create an installation that encapsulates the word expression, the theme chosen by Glasgow Museum's for one half of the museum.

Like a release of balloons, the heads bring lightness and humour to a grand building, lifting visitors heads and acting as a draw to the upstairs galleries, says Esther.

It was inspired by the varied collection of marble busts at the museum,  and the heads are a playful homage to Victorian sculpture galleries.

The aim of  the design, says Esther, was to develop a total vision for Kelvingrove with genuine appeal to the hearts and minds of the ordinary people of Glasgow, a grand day out.

"Not since the museum opened in 1901 has it been possible to make a single unified presentation that sings to the building and its audience. The multi-disciplinary displays are designed to put the collections in front of the visitors, telling interesting and unexpected stories to different audiences," says Esther.

The displays are carefully proportioned to sit comfortably within the Victorian building but are firmly in the 21st century in their content and forward thinking. Based on a new concept of story telling, the displays present old favourites and never seen before treasures in new and unexpected combinations.

The collections are displayed through a flexible, modular display system - a simple mechano-type set of parts and family of flexible showcases - that have been used in varied combinations to create dynamically different galleries. "Designing such flexibility was a groundbreaking challenge for us but one we wholeheartedly embraced. It allows Glasgow Museums to keep moving forwards, to develop their museum, responding to visitors and revealing the thousands of other stories they could tell," says Esther.

Event's task has been not only to realise Glasgow Museum's exciting vision for a highly accessible and educational venue expressed through the new displays; it was also to provide the capacity for the museum to continue to respond in the future to their visitors interests by presenting their collections in new configurations and with new insights and stories.

The new Kelvingrove is a museum that is subtly innovative on many levels, it adopts a story-based approach that breaks with traditional museum practice; communicates passionately with every type of visitor, addresses issues which are sensitive for Glasgow's communities; is unconventional in its approach to picture hanging, which results in the clear and contemporary re-working of a grand Victorian vision.

Grand it may be, but imposing it is not. The approach of curators is warm and interactive, presenting objects selected by the public, inviting input to the displays and encouraging involvement with local projects. Hands-on learning and imaginative engagement are a vital and integral part of a visit to this museum of today.

Kelvingrove's impressive attractions includes a dedicated Space for the Under-5s, three Discovery Centres, a Study Centre and an Object Cinema, all developed with the curatorial staff and designed by Event. The History, Environment and Art Discovery Centres enable schools and other visitors to get close to the objects and join in a wide ranging programme of activities and events.

The Under-5s Space, focuses on the playful theme of 'Feet and Faces' and is inspired by small children's fascination and identification with characters. It aims to set them off on a journey through the Galleries with a mission to look for simple recurring features, whether it is the face on a Chinese pot or the feet of Sir Roger the Elephant - feet being so often a key feature at their height! It is a simple idea, imaginatively realised, designed to start the youngest visitors on an open-ended learning experience which hopefully will go on for a lifetime.

In the Study Centre, visitors can meet the curators browse the collections, handle objects or simply relax with a book in a comfortable chair. And, finally, the Object Cinema enables visitors to step inside the showcase and become immersed in the sounds and images associated with the drama encapsulated in the collections.

Event has responded to Kelvingrove's spaces with grand gestures, creating great public spaces to experience, inhabit and enjoy, says the company.   A unified vision has been created to a level which has probably not been achieved since its inaugural layout in 1901. The displays include something for everyone, excitement, humour, drama, beauty and contemplation.

More information about Kelvingrove New Century project are available online  Visit Event Communications

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