Philip Kingsley on the Year of the Horse exhibition at Kelvingrove (below).


Horsing Around

‘A year of hectic activity; vibrant, colourful and highly irresponsible.’ Chinese Astrology has come to Glasgow, bringing with it dire warnings for the year ahead. Philip Kingsley investigates.

1990 may be recognised by a million or so Clydesiders as their chance to step into the cultural limelight, but to more than a billion Chinese, the turn of the decade is first and foremost the year ofthe horse. This consideration, should not be dismissed lightly. It may well hold some influence on the year ahead.

Chinese legend explains: on the last New Year festival before Buddha died, he summoned all the animals of the world to pay him a visit. He offered them gifts. but despite his generosity, only twelve actually turned up. Outraged by such neglect. he decided to set those who had attended above all other creatures, and the animals departed in the knowledge that every twelfth year would be dedicated to them. Consequently, each year; its offspring and its events, are bound to reflect the characteristics of the animal to whom they belong.

This leaves Glasgow and its year-long festival in a precarious position. The horse, for all that it is an intelligent and high spirited animal, is also capable of recklessness. impatience, and wanton destruction. No-one wants that kind ofgremlin stalking them. so the Kelvingrove Museum, as a kind of peace offering. has put together an elaborate and multi-disciplinary exhibition in praise ofthe horse.

Devotees of Buddhism. however, should pause for thought before deciding that divine inspiration has finally arrived in the West. The exhibition. for all that it takes its cue from Eastern mythology, is in fact a general presentation of the horse. its evolution and its relationship to humankind. It is divided into eight sections and covers a variety of equestrian themes. The horse at work. in war, in sport and as a toy are all explained. and alongside the display cabinets, a series of live events are planned. including the sculpting of a 30ft horse in the main entrance hall. The real point of interest here is that a major museum is combining its departments to provide the public with one big exhibition, rather than a number ofsmaller ones.

So, is there any intrinsic value in the theme itself? For a society accustomed to the internal

combustion engine, the dedication of an entire museum to a ‘minority interest’ might, at first glance, seem a little luxurious. After all, what is a horse to us? A bookie’s betting slip? A middle-class plaything? Not much else.

Well, consider this. In many ways the development ofhuman civilization rests. quite literally, on the back of a horse. For thousands of years, the horse was our only means ofoverland travel. Without it; no wars. no empires, and a lot

of fragmentary cultures standing still over the course oftime. Whatever sentiment that inspires. it remains a truism that the horse played a crucial part in the momentum ofpre-mechanical life. As a historical lesson, the exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum should be well worth a look.

The Year 0fthe Horse is showing at the A rt Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, 27Jan—I April.


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