Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ulster Museum, Sean Scully, Takabuti and first impressions

This afternoon Littl'un took me on a tour of the recently reopened Ulster Museum. Already she's become a frequent visitor and has her favourite corners to visit.

It's a bit like IKEA without the soft furnishings: white walls and a maze-like flow through the rooms. It feels like the merging of original and more modern halves of the building creates strange half floors and steps that are there to frustrate pushchairs, wheelchairs and anyone who needs to use the many chair lifts provided. And then there are the walkways that jut out high above the main atrium. I love the way that the floors are numbered 1-5 but the printed maps represent it as four floors! The architect may have been a relation of Escher.

Sean Scully photo from Ulster Museum website

It feels like all the old art works had been hidden away in the museum store, and instead, Sean Scully's colourful blocks are adorning the walls of the galleries on the museum's upper floors.

It all looks the same, until your eye detects how Scully changed his technique over time. Sometimes the works are three dimensional, with coloured blocks sitting out from the rest of the picture. In others, he paints the blocks with coloured stripes rather than solid colour. However, as a self-confessed art-a-phobe, I'm still not convinced why hanging over sixty paintings in the same abstract style by the same artist is worth while.

When we reached the interactive Discover Art room, we settled down and followed the instructions to draw our own works in the style of Sean Scully. (My first attempt is reproduced below.)

Impersonating Sean Scully

Of course, the mathematician in me realised that this was a perfect opportunity to practice the four colour theorem that states that any 2D map can be coloured with just four colours in such a way that no coloured patch touches another patch of the same colour. Which led to a second version, using four shades of blue. (Great variety of pencils up in the museum's art room!)

Sean Scully - four colour (four shades of blue) version

Of course, Littl'un then wanted to colour by numbers too - she was a bit bolder with her colour scheme.

Sean Scully - Littl'un's four colour version

Takabuti was a disappointment. After the recent BBC documentary, I was expecting lots of information and displays and poster boards. Instead Littl'un led me into the smallest room on the floor, where people crowded around the glass case and gathered in front of the plasma screen to watch the short film. Why wasn't the film showing in an adjoining room with seating. Why so little space devoted to one of the museum's iconic assets?

Suspect the guy above was always chewin' his fingers ...

Fragment of sculpture - crumbly fingers? Ulster Museum, Belfast

Being Saturday afternoon, the Discover Nature interactive room was heaving with people. The windows were condensated - unfortunate for those wanting to use the provided telescope and binoculars to look out at Botanic Gardens, and the low-down open window looked like an accident waiting to happen.

One of my childhood memories of the Ulster Museum was the Girona display in the corner of one of the upper floors. Yet as we walked past the Girona, the magic of the old display had been replaced with wall boards and a lack of gold and glitter.

The cafe's an improvement on the old top floor affair - though the restaurant prices are high, and they could do with adding bananas and a few other child-friendly, half-healthy options to feed to little people.

All the same, I bet we'll be back to explore further.


Timothy Belmont said...

Good review, Alan. Enjoyed reading it.

Agree with you re the Old Masters. Seemingly they'll be dusted down and wheeled out in the New Year. Abstract art is wasted on me, I'm afraid!

My main gripe about the new café is that my meal was luke-warm and cool half-way through. I ought to have taken it up to the counter but, since I was alone and had an overcoat at my table with valuables therein, I'd have needed to dress up again!

Huge improvement, though. Teething problems, which may well iron themselves out...

I'll be back.


AM said...

Brings back childhood memories. My mother first took me to visit it and the star attraction for us then was the 'mummy woman'. I hope to take my own children to see it some time. It is a few minutes walk from the Union College which was damaged by fire and which was the subject of an earlier post on this fine blog.

Years later I returned to review an exhibition called War And Conflict in 20th Century Ireland. The curator was Jane Leonard.

It is a great source of learning and more children should avail of the opportunities on offer.