A Heritage Institution Exploring Its Own Ancestry: Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

By Rosie Spooner.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Upon opening in 1901, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum provided a permanent home for Glasgow’s growing civic collection of fine art, natural history, industrial and archaeological objects. The original displays remained largely intact until a major renovation, restoration and re-hang, carried out under the banner of the Kelvingrove New Century Project (KNCP), was initiated following the museum’s centenary. This paper explores the complicated relationship Kelvingrove has with its own heritage, something it shares with other museums similarly established during the museum building boom of the late-Victorian period. It addresses this interaction between past and present, offering a study of the recent renovation that is grounded in a consideration of the museum’s beginnings. Examining a variety of materials including historical sources, reports commissioned during the KNCP, and relevant research offered by scholars and museum professionals, the paper assesses the claim made by Glasgow Museums that the renovation constituted a “twenty-first-century revision of the democratic and inclusive ideals on which the museum was founded” (O’Neill 2007, 395). The resultant analysis presents the argument that this narrative, which links certain elements of the institution’s history with the objectives of the renovation, was deliberately promoted in an effort to couch change within a larger sense of continuity. Although Kelvingrove now largely reflects the KNCP’s desired outcomes in terms of re-conceptualized galleries and ease of movement throughout the museum for instance, this discourse is not as seamless as Glasgow Museums presents it as being, thus making it worthy of interrogation.

Keywords: Heritage, Victorian Museum, Museum Practice, Custodianship, Inclusivity

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp.57-67. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 415.869KB).

Rosie Spooner

PhD Candidate, The History of Art Department, The University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Rosemary Spooner is an emerging researcher, writer and curator originally from Toronto, and currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. She holds an MA in British colonial history from the University of Bristol and an undergraduate degree in modern history from the University of Glasgow, where she returned in January 2013 to begin her doctorate. Funded by an award from the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council, her Ph.D. research concerns the material culture of the British Empire. Examining the movement and circulation of objects and people between London, Glasgow and Canada through the mechanisms of the international exhibition, her research explores how these events functioned as sites where varied and complex colonial, national and imperial identities were propagated and performed. Drawing on her experience working in contemporary art galleries in the UK and Canada, her inter-disciplinary curatorial practice seeks to bring together historic and contemporary objects, artworks and exhibitionary models in an effort to re-frame these categories, and facilitate discussion about how we interact with our material surroundings.


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