Hi, Em here,
This week I visited the marvelously majestic museum that is the Victoria and Albert in London. I often spend my spare time exploring museums (I even brought my mum and sister to Christchurch Mansion on my day off!) and wanted to return to the V&A after it won the Museum of the Year Award last week *congratulations!*
I remember visiting the museum on an art trip with school in Year 11 and finding the fashion and materials really exciting, so wanted to revisit with fresh, museum-worker eyes. The location of the V&A is one of my favourites, as it’s part of the ‘museum mile’ in London, situated next door to the amazing Natural History Museum and streets away from The Science Museum. The scene was inherently British as I arrived, with black cabs and red buses whizzing past and tourists taking selfies in front of the beautifully crafted architecture of the building.
The first exhibition I visited was China: The T.T Tsui Gallery, which showcased various aspects of life in China that had cultural, religious and social importance to the nation. I really enjoyed the way that the exhibitions team had displayed the objects into different themes, which were colour coded around the room, for example living, burial, temple and worship and collecting. In my opinion, this design technique works really well, as it allows visitors to link objects in the collection to one another and also gives them a choice about which themes they want to learn more about. The V&A had chosen not to display the objects in a linear order, stating that they were ‘arranged according to use rather than chronologically’ so as to present ‘continuities and innovations within Chinese life and art’.
Next, I visited the fashion collection and the exhibition entitled Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. The show explored the relationship between underwear and fashion, looking at the intimacy between the two in shaping thoughts about sex and gender. It was sponsored by American branded cosmetics company ‘Revlon’ and British lingerie company, ‘Agent Provocateur’. This type of support and sponsorship was visible with many of the displays throughout the V&A and is something that I believe comes with status and significance once you are on the international stage, like many of the Nationals and London museums.
The fashion collection was everything you can imagine a display at “the world’s leading museum of art and design” to be; classy, stylish and inspiring. The layout within the circular space was really effective, with permanent, year-long displays positioned around the edge and covering everything from post-war couture and Mary Quant raincoats, to ball gowns and modern Vivienne Westwood pieces. The temporary Undressed exhibition was positioned in the middle of the space and housed corsetry and underwear from the 18th century up to the modern day (it also had a small gift area beside it, which was handy!) Something that really struck me was how many events were organised around this one exhibition, including talks by professors and fashion designers, a curators lunch, corsetry workshops, weekend courses and even a special £5 exhibition price on Tuesdays throughout summer.
On each floor around the museum, there was a real focus on public comfort and interactivity. There were stools for visitors to take around with them, books with large print for those with a visual impairment and comfortable seating in every gallery. Additionally, there were a lot of interactives for people to enjoy, including audio speakers telling stories, responsive screens with 2-3 minute films and quizzes, colouring tables, replica handling objects to touch, ‘object in focus’ screens and even a film room! Upstairs in the British Galleries was also a brilliant Discovery Centre, which had activities such as write a mini-saga, try on a ruff and design a digital coat of arms. For me, activities such as these, although not possible everywhere due to the cost, are a really important addition to museum visits. They allow more engagement, a better connection to collections and interactivity between visitors, which can only be a good thing.
Other amazingly presented exhibitions were the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (see below) and the jewelry display – dark lighting, curved cases, UV spiral staircases, gold lettering on text panels and spotlighting to illuminate the pieces. I have never seen a collection presented in such a beautiful way; it was truly inspiring (unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to take photographs, so you’ll have to go and see for yourself!)
Here’s to another museum being ticked off in my spare time. But I’m not a museum geek yet. Honestly…