Day 5 – Glasgow – Burrell Collection

On my own again and sinking slightly into that subtle but evident hotel discouragement (impersonal room, a little too much time alone) that creeps on after a few days, I took off for the country, namely the Burrell Collection and Pollock House. The Burrell Collection is one of Glasgow’s gems, if not its outright main attraction.

Like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (my favorite museum) and the Frick in New York, the Burrell is a personal collection of art and artifacts. I generally like these collections because they have a flair and inconsistency that is refreshing and lacking at traditional museums. Such was the case here: a bunch of armor (cool), a ton of Chinese ceramics (not my bag), tapestries to burn, a lot of stained glass, some falconry equipment (huh?), a heap of Degas, a Whistler or two, a couple of Rodin’s sculptures, and some Egyptian cats. Burrell apparently had distinct tastes and was notoriously frugal, so the collection is comprised of a.) things he liked, and b.) things he could get at a bargain. It’s quite an organizing principle.

I didn’t like the building itself, which looks like a monster warehouse made of yellow wood and brick and glass. There was a 20-year gap between the donation of the collection to Glasgow and its opening because Burrell had stipulated that the collection have a rural home. When Glasgow finally came up with a site, they chose this building design because, quoting roughly, “It was designed around the objects and not as a building unto itself.” What the hell?? This seems silly to me. I think they should have held out for Gehry and gotten a design that doesn’t look like your average lumber storage depot.

The building does do the items justice, they’re right there, but I would have preferred either the original setting – as at the ISG or Frick – where you get a comprehensive sense of the things/person/collection as a whole, or something interesting in its own right. (They did reconstruct a few of Burrell’s rooms to meet some of this desire but, in that setting, they look dark and not a little bizarre.)

I saw only the gardens of the Pollock House, not the collection, because the Scottish Trust charges an arm and a leg to get into a floor of paintings, I was tired, and there was no wall for me to scale to break in so what’s the fun in that? The formal gardens were beautiful – I don’t know what they feed that grass but it’s crazy-fine. They’ve cultivated an all-yellow labyrinth garden which provides a great exhaustion exercise for holiday-ing kids hopped up on tea and cakes.

I got lost again on my way back. Someone should really send me a compass before I get hurt.

I’d like to say here, for the record, that I love tea (the concept and the reality), but English food (original and imported) is really just the blandest stuff on earth. Fortunately, they have plenty of croissants and French yogurt to cover me. I have also noted the absence of organic fruit, or fruit at all really, and bottled water. Huh. Something nice about California. Who would have thought??

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