Credit: GG Photography and Illustrations Manager Allison Campbell (@allijcampbell)

The Burrell Collection refurbishment

By Megan Farrimond

An outline of the progress so far.

The Burrell Collection has been a centrepiece in Glasgow’s art scene for more than 40 years. Home to more than 8,000 pieces, it boasts some of the world’s most extraordinary pieces of Chinese and Islamic art, as well as Europe’s largest collection of work by French Impressionists Degas and Cézanne. It’s hard to believe that this was accumulated by one man, William Burrell, who gifted the Collection to the City of Glasgow Corporation in 1944. 

Situated in Pollok Country Park, the Collection was donated to Glasgow on the condition that it was to be housed in a building at least 16 miles from the city centre. This was to avoid the works being damaged by the air pollution which was prevalent at the time. Although the choice of location was based on practical purposes, it additionally gave its visitors a charming day trip out of the city. The peaceful, tranquil nature of the country park surroundings makes it easier to appreciate and connect with the range of cultures on display.

If you have recently moved to Glasgow as a fresher or have been at the University for a couple of years, you may know that the Burrell Collection is currently inaccessible while undergoing refurbishment. The site has been closed since 2016 and after a £67.4 million revamp it was due to reopen earlier this year. This was pushed back until next year as Glasgow Life (who operate the collection) stated it was best to open “in the sunshine”.  Sadly, Glasgow Life announced last month that the reopening date is now being revised due to lockdown halting work in the building and stunting the progress of the refurbishment. A spokesperson for Glasgow Life has stated: “A new opening date will be announced as soon as we are confident the impact of Covid-19 has been fully assessed.” 

You might now be wondering what changes have taken place over the course of the refurbishment. The building in which the artwork is housed is a Grade A listed building and is entirely purpose built, meaning that the collection has to be arranged in such a way as to enhance the building’s architectural integrity while showcasing the objects. Due to the expansive nature of the collection, many of the objects are kept behind closed doors with only one fifth of the collection on display at its closure in 2016. After the refurbishment visitors will be able to explore one third more gallery space.  This will include special exhibition spaces, as well as a rotation of artworks to allow the full display of the collection.

Whilst the gallery has been closed, we have seen a rise in interactive museums, many having a free open-door online policy due to the restrictions in place. To keep up with this, the space will now include a dedicated learning and education centre to improve visitors’ understanding of the collection, with the intention for online viewing as an available option.  Glasgow City Council originally agreed to pay 50% of the costs of the refurbishment, but has recently given a further £1.5m towards audio-visual display which includes a video wall and projection, touchscreens, tablets and computers.  The building will also be more accessible throughout. 

In the years since its closure there has been more money invested in the collection, allowing more goals to be met. In 2016, £15m was awarded to the collection from the Heritage Lottery Fund and this money was expected to be channelled towards creating a more sustainable building, which the Glasgow City Council say will “transform it from a building with a large carbon footprint into an energy-efficient, modern museum”.


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