Hove Museum and Art Gallery dives headlong Into the Blue

By Sarah Jackson | 05 August 2013

Exhibition Review: Into the Blue, Hove Museum and Art Gallery, Hove, until January 21 2014

Blue objects from the Royal Pavilion & Museums natural sciences collection. On display at 'Into the Blue' exhibition.
© James Pike
Five minutes into Hove Museum and Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, an unusual question surfaces: why are there no blue mammals?

There are plenty of examples of blue birds and insects from the museum’s natural history collection. But apart from the blue skin of the Mandrill, mammals have so far failed to evolve into the colour blue.

Forming an exhibition based around something as all-encompassing as the colour blue could be a daunting task, with so many avenues to explore quite apart from the blue mammal quandary.

Objects from the museum’s Natural History and Art collection provide a springboard from which blueness is explored in science, art and history.

Starting with the blue minerals and plants used to make the earliest blue dyes, it reveals that blue has long been associated with the most privileged members of society due to the difficulty and expense of its production.

The exertion needed to create blue dyes, whether it was gathering thousands of snails to make tiny amount of dye or the need to import dyes from half way across the world, only made the colour more desirable – to those who could afford it.

What humans had great difficulty in making, however, other species create with great ease. Birds and insects can create a huge variety of colours in their feathers and plumage – so why not mammals?

The next room seeks to answer that and other questions, including a favourite of so many children: why is the sky blue?

This is perhaps the most interesting part, pondering the notion that the way we perceive the world is not necessarily the way it really looks. Although we think we have full colour vision, birds and insects can see much more of the light spectrum than any mammal.

I lingered in this room the longest, thinking philosophically on the nature of perception and how much of how we experience the world is bound by genetics and evolution, before noticing the horseshoe crab in the corner.

Also known as the King Crab because of its literal blue blood (caused by using copper to transport blood), this creature looked too much like an armour-plated facehugging alien for my taste.

I beat a hasty retreat to the third and final room, where the use of blue in religious art is explored, along with the development of synthetic blue made from minerals. The rarity of such minerals, including lapis lazuli (which at some points in history has been as expensive as gold) meant that blue was considered by religions across the world to be a holy colour.

With the introduction of synthetic blues, the value of this colour has perhaps faded a little; nonetheless, we can all still appreciate the beauty and preciousness of a clear blue sky, or the sight of our planet in space, a blue marble against the vast darkness.

Into the Blue offers an opportunity to recognise the impact this colour has on our lives and take a journey through the history of humanity, from the very beginnings of our evolution to our ability to transform the natural world around us into art.

  • Open 10am-5pm (2pm-5pm Sunday, closed Wednesday, closed December 25 and 26, open Bank Holiday Mondays). Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @BrightonMuseums. Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

More pictures:

Close up of a peacock's feathers.
© James Pike

Iridescent blue butterfly.
© James Pike
Blue stone with streaks of grey.
© James Pike
Galleries and object images from Into the Blue exhibition at Hove Museum
© Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Galleries and object images from Into the Blue exhibition at Hove Museum.
© Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

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