Saturday, 27 March 2010
I've just come from a walk round the revamped Ulster Museum beside Botanic Gardens in Belfast. There's a lot of glass and chrome, a heavily-populated gift shop and cafe (always the most attractive places in museums and art galleries), some impressive displays of Irish silver from the eighteenth century, Ming dynasty-style pottery stuff from as far back as the seventh century, a Gilbert and George painting of massive dimensions (which includes a fairly massive depiction of Gilbert's - or is it George's - private parts) and some works by Sir John Lavery, including one of his wife, who was the model for a painting of the Virgin Mary in a Belfast church and who had a fling with Michael Collins during his sojourn in London. It's an impressive space and an impressive display of work, although I often think that the first museum/gallery to instal free electrically-controlled wheelchairs will make a fortune. But what I didn't see - with the exception of some work by Willie Doherty, showing scenes of urban sectarianism and decay - was work that reflected the Troubles. That's sort of amazing, when you think of it. Thirty years of massive social and political upheaval, to the point where the very state teetered on the edge, and there's little or no reflection of it in the artistic work displayed. Why is that? Is it that, for the gallery-going middle-classes, the Troubles weren't much more than an inconvenient blip, which has now ended. Or it could mean that nice museums don't feature mindless violence. Or maybe that murals are difficult to lend to a museum. Whatever the reason, you'll find more reminders of our troubled past in Stormont than you will in the Ulster Museum.