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Belfast's Botanic Gardens, withtheir glass-domed Victorian PalmHouse and tropical ravine, offer aleafy oasis of calm in the heart of busycity life. They are flanked, on one side,by the magnificent Lanyon Building ofQueen's University and, on the other, bythe Ulster Museum.  Architecturally, the two could scarcelyoffer a more striking contrast. SirCharles Lanyon's Gothic Revival edifice,built in 1849, is a combination of soaringred-brick towers, leaded windows andornately carved sandstone. Across thelawns hovers the great grey mass of the museum. In 1972, a spectacularextension to the original classicalLocal heroAfter a £17m refurbishment, Ulster Museumhas won a host of awards including the2010 Art Fund prize. Jane Coyleleads usthrough the fantastically varied galleries andfinds out why this museum has won over somany judges -and attracted more than700,000 visitors in less than two years32NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING was opened, designed in theBrutalist style and incorporating themain entrance. This seamless mergingof the traditional and the modern hasbeen widely praised over the years; thedistinguished architect David Evanswrote of the "... almost barbaric powerof its great cubic projections andcantilevers, brooding over the conifers ofthe Botanic Gardens like a mastodon."The Botanic Garden's origins werewith the Belfast Natural History Society,which opened the city's first museum in 1833. The then Belfast MunicipalMuseum and Art Gallery moved to the Botanic Gardens in 1929. It wasrenamed the Ulster Museum in REVIEW / SPRING 201133Left:The UlsterMuseum'sacclaimedApplied ArtGalleryBelow:Themuseum buildingcombinestraditional andmodernarchitectureseamlessly which played a major role in fashion and portraiture of the time. A constantpresence in this section is JMW Turner's The Dawn of Christianity(TheFlight into Egypt), donated by LadyMargaret Currie in 1913. Together withFrancis Bacon's Head II, donated in1959, it is one of the museum's mosttreasured possessions.Until June, the exhibition in one of the largest galleries is entitled A NewOrderand integrates pieces from thepermanent collection with important new acquisitions. Among the latter,Anne points to Hughie O'Donoghue'spowerful, large-scale mixed media piece, Wrestlers, based on his father'swartime diaries and containing imagery from the ancient and modernworlds. Attention is also drawn to two important recent acquisitions from theinternationally acclaimed Derry artist and Turner Prize finalist Willie Doherty.Ghost Storyis a deeply affecting videoinstallation, narrated by the actorStephen Rea and first shown at the2007 Venice Biennale. Apparatus is aseries of 40 cibachrome prints, whoseimages relate to areas along the Belfast'peace-lines'.Stewart describes this section ascontaining ". many of the favouritepaintings - by Irish artists like GerardDillon, Colin Middleton, John Lavery, NeilShawcross, Basil Blackshaw, Louis LeBrocquy, John Luke, William Conor, JBYeats and Roderic O'Conor, who isthought to have met Van Gogh andwhose early French paintings wereclearly inspired by him."1962 and formally recognised as anational museum.In October 2006, it closed to allowwork to proceed on a £17mrefurbishment programme, significantlyfunded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Within afew months of reopening in October2009, it carried off the prestigious£100,000 UK Art Fund Prize from a shortlist which included theAshmolean Museum in Oxford,Coventry's Herbert Art Galley andMuseum and Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire. It was subsequentlyjudged Best Permanent Exhibition in theUK at the annual Museums and Heritage awards, in competition with theNatural History Museum, the V&A andthe Ashmolean. Behind the closed doors, dramaticstructural change has been achieved,mainly in a vertical direction. It is athrilling experience to walk through the new open-plan foyer into the five-storey, white-walled atrium, with its multi-layered suspended glass and steel walkways. Navigation of the collections is now much simpler with the establishment of separatelydesignated zones for art, history and nature.  The Art Zone is at the top of thehouse on Levels 4 and 5. There, in aseries of vast, beautifully lit galleries, a lively programme of exhibitions unfoldson a regular basis.  Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art forNational Museums Northern Ireland,explains that the Ulster Museum isunusual in that it houses art, history andscience under one roof and that thereare no differentiated spaces for thepermanent art collection and travelling or temporary exhibitions respectively. On a tour through the galleries, AnneStewart, Curator of Fine Art, pauses first in the current Old Masters section. It will shortly be replaced by anexhibition entitled The Grand Manner,featuring British and Italian paintings and 18th and early 19th centuryportraits of local sitters by, amongothers, Reynolds, Gainsborough andLawrence. The exhibition will highlightthe influence of the classical world,ULSTER MUSEUM