UCL Museums & Collections Blog
  •  
  •  
  • Categories

  •  
  • Tags

  •  
  • Archives

  • The Art of the Grant

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 25 February 2014

    At the Grant Museum both staff and our visitors are very lucky because we do not have quite the same level of red tape as most non-university based museums. Our collections are historically for teaching only, and even now are still used heavily in undergraduate courses at UCL, which means that physical access to specimens is much more possible than in non-teaching based collections. It is for this reason, as well as the shining personalities of the Grant Museum staff no doubt, that our Museum is extremely popular with artists. The ability to choose a specimen (within reason… the mounted donkey skeleton is a little heavy) and have it placed on the table in front of you for you to gaze at and draw to your heart’s content, is surely nearing unparalleled levels of excitement. (more…)

    It’s Australia v England, in battle over Stubbs masterpieces

    By Jack Ashby, on 8 November 2013

    In September I wrote a post about two paintings by George Stubbs – of a kangaroo and a dingo – which had been placed under an export bar to allow time for the National Maritime Museum to raise funds to save them for the nation. This was because they had been sold to an oversees buyer.

    This week we learned that the campaign was successful. Had it not been, the paintings would have been bought by the National Gallery of Australia. They are understandably disappointed. I was asked by The Conversation (“an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community”) to update my article for them, covering the Australian case for their acquisition. (more…)

    Europe’s First Kangaroo and the Grant Museum: Save our Stubbs

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 September 2013

    James Cook’s landing in Australia in 1770 changed the political, social and natural world. With regards to the latter, the animals the expedition discovered, described and exported have had profound effects on people’s experience and understanding of zoology.

    Whilst I believe that the descriptions of Cook’s party’s early encounters with kangaroos were ridiculous, it was these encounters that began Europe’s relationship with Australasian wildlife.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    A few marsupials in the Americas (opossums) were already known by this point, but a whole continent with entire ecosystems based around them, and including 6 foot kangaroos questions the very nature of mammals. What else could be left unknown? American opossums, with their pouches, would have been interesting discoveries among scientific communities, but they must have been nothing compared to the sensation of the kangaroo in the eyes of the public. (more…)

    Grant Museum’s visitor artwork

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 27 August 2013

    Thylacine. © Sandra Doyle

    Thylacine. © Sandra Doyle

    Last week we launched our new Grant Museum Tumblr site, which we will be using to showcase the work of our artistic visitors who come to the Museum to draw our very own specimens. On several occasions you may have happened upon a visitor drawing in the Museum with one of our specimens laid out on the table, or in deep concentration sketching by a display case. Well, this is just one of the services we like to offer at the Grant Museum, as we know our collections provide inspiration to art students, designers, researchers, illustrators, and many more. (more…)

    Grant Museum Objects on Tour: Lost Labels

    By Mark Carnall, on 1 August 2013

    Lost labels from the Grant Museum.

    Lost labels from the Grant Museum.

    Last week, the exhibition Nature Reserves opened at GV Art, London a group exhibition examining the relationship between how humans interpret and archive the natural environment. Tom Jeffreys, the curator of the show, contacted the Grant Museum to discuss some ideas about how natural history museums archive and organise specimens and these discussions lead to us lending a collection of orphaned labels, that cause me great personal anguish whenever I have to add to this sub collection, to the show.
    (more…)

    Sculpture Season opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 June 2013

    Today at the Grant Museum, not only have we flung the doors open to the public (as we do six days a week), but we have opened the doors to the Museum – and the museum cabinets – to thirteen emerging artists, inviting them to rethink our collection. Today, Sculpture Season begins.

    We’re consistently thinking how to use our collections in different ways, and while the team here is a creative one (otherwise – boast boast – we wouldn’t keep winning awards) we can definitely benefit from completely different eyes and minds looking at our collection.

    Sculpture Season does just that – thirteen sculpture students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL were invited to create works in response to the Museum’s spaces, specimens, science and history. The results are fantastic. Alongside the Museum’s historic skeletons, skulls and specimens preserved in jars, the new works engage with animal/human encounters through re-animated flesh, tunnelling rats and mice, giant worms and body bags.

    The artists have created music technologies, phantom occupations of the Museum’s iPad apps, hand-knitted internal organs and explorations of the excessive masculinity of giant deer antlers. Specimens have been re-ordered, re-labelled and re-imagined. (more…)

    Art Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 10 May 2013

    It seems to be a week for thinking about Art vs. Science this week. Of course the whole idea or art vs. science is a fallacy but increasingly I meet artists and scientists who want to live up to the stereotype of being in either camp and rejecting outright the other one. As a university museum we work very hard to ensure that our collections support the research of the academic community not just here at UCL and it isn’t just science researchers who are ‘allowed’ in.

    Natural history and art have a shared history and for a long time were the same thing. Trace the origins of an interest in the natural world and biology back to its roots and description, observation, inspiration and illustration are natural history. You couldn’t prise the ‘art’ or the ‘science’ bits out of it without undermining the whole endeavor. This tradition continues today, if we think about the Wildlife photographer of the year, the imagery employed by conservation agencies, the latest Wellcome collection exhibition, the works of Mark Dion or even the plates and graphs from  scientific journal papers they can be considered both art and science. Particularly, with the pervasive use of the Internet, visual media is increasingly how we communicate our ideas, agendas and passions. Be it a powerful image that sums up the plight of Orang Utans, a meme that causes us to chuckle over a tea break or the sheer beauty of what is called ‘data porn’, that is, a nice infographic that shows rather than tells the story.

    So on any given day at the Grant Museum we could have visiting scientific researchers who may be measuring the dimensions of a skull or looking for the differences between fossils. Alternatively we could have an artist creating an installation for our Foyer and we’re excited to see the reactions to the museum for our upcoming sculpture season collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts. Rarely is there a day where we don’t have an art group or individual artists sketching or photographing specimens on display. All of the above are equally valid uses of museum collections and this post follows a day out for one of our specimens down to the Royal College of Art. (more…)

    Rearranging the natural world

    By Dean W Veall, on 9 May 2013

    Isomorphological forms

    Isomorphological forms

    Here at the Grant Museum we display our objects taxonomically (and have done since Grant founded the collection in 1828), objects are grouped together to reflect their evolutionary relationship to each other. This method of viewing the natural world has been with us since the Swedish naturalist Carl Linneaus introduced his work that classified the natural world, Systema naturalis, in the 18th Century. This method of classification has changed over time to reflect and accommodate current thinking in science, but primarily the principle has remained unchanged, grouping animals based on shared characteristics.

    Artist researcher Gemma Anderson and a group of the public took another view of our collection based on her concept of Isomorphology.

    (more…)

    Book Worm… Kangaroo by John Simons: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 April 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    I’m writing this second review in the predictably punned “Book Worm” occasional series whilst in the desert town of Alice Springs. As I like to match my reading with my surroundings, I’m reviewing Kangaroo by John Simons, published in December as part of Reaktion’s Animal Series.

    What this book seems to attempt to do is tackle the kangaroo from a variety of angles – biological, ecolgical, historical and anthropological. It is extremely generously illustrated (on nearly every page). There is sometimes, however, no obvious connection between the image and the neighbouring text which can make things a bit confusing, particularly when he is describing a specific visual scene without providing the appropriate image. (more…)

    So when is natural history art?

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2012

    Bisected chimp head

    Very obviously science.

    Before I start, just to be clear, I’m not one of those scientists who hates art, or is snobbish about the semi-defined/awe-and-wonder/expressive/cheeky-subversion/I-don’t-care-if-the-viewer-doesn’t-understand kind of thing that some artists get up to. Not at all. I think it’s great. In fact, I work hard to incorporate a lot of art into programmes at the Grant Museum.

    Over the last couple of weeks two of the city’s biggest block-busters finished – Animal Inside Out at the Natural History Museum and Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern. They were both excellent.

    Much has been written about the cross-over between art and natural history, particularly when traditional scientific museum practices are replicated in art. What makes one art and one science?
    The obvious answers relate to the intentions of the artist and the interpretations of the viewer. (more…)