7 Mar 2010

A lesson in light

As I approached the building that is home to Glasgow’s prized Burrell Collection, my first thought was that I was about to waste precious hours of sunlight by going indoors. I could see how much glass there was to the structure, but it still looked to me like some enormous and jagged main course served on bed of flat green fields. I was disheartened before I had even begun.

If only all disappointments transformed into such succulent experiences. Walking through the main entrance and past the shop, I saw to my right the most beautiful hallway - so beautiful that I stood there open-mouthed for a full 10 minutes, letting my eye be drawn away into the distance.

Suddenly all those hours I had spent swooning over the television programme Grand Designs imploded into a single fragment of perception. In that moment, I understood light.
Everywhere I went, light was there: pouring, splashing, sifting through spaces and around corners. Taking nearly all of Sir William Burrell’s more than 9,000 assembled pieces of art and treating each one as if it were on a pedestal. Some doorways are framed with Romanesque arches, while others are clad with warm wood. Here, ornate frames and glass simultaneously separating and connecting two sections of exhibition space while around the corner, a nibble of shadow that gives way to a cavernous room filled with dark furniture.
Obviously most people come to see the collection itself and must be awed by the number of items that this one (very wealthy) man managed to amass during his lifetime. Medieval tapestries, ancient pieces from Rome, Greece and China, paintings by European masters, and elaborately carved English oak furniture, including a four poster bed from the 1600s, the sight of which made me groan with jealous pleasure. But as I wandered through the floors, I knew that this amazing compilation of works would not wield the same power were it not for the complimentary nature of the building that houses it.
The collection was gifted to the city in 1944 and the building was opened in 1983 (praise be to the architects Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen), so obviously this is not a new attraction. However Glasgow residents have every reason to still be bulging with pride at this magnificent (and free!) addition to their city. This vast and varied assemblage of beautiful objects, combined with the subtle genius of this building, gives the Burrell Collection an artistic vigour that will no doubt continue to strike visitors dumb with wonder for years to come.

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