‘All of this belongs to you’ is the title of a new, free, exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, consisting of four new commissions from contemporary designers, artists and architects; works which explore the nature of the museum in the public realm. It is competing currently with the Alexander McQueen exhibition (£16 entrance) at the same museum, which comes trailing clouds of glory from New York and for which there was a long queue yesterday morning and ‘Shoes; Pleasure and Pain’ ( £12 ) which has only just opened and runs until January.
In addition there is a free photographic exhibition of early 20th century photographs of India taken by Captain Linnaeus Tripe ( what a fabulous name ) as part of the ongoing V&A India Festival and ‘What is Luxury?’ a free exhibition of exceptional examples of contemporary design. I popped into the latter yesterday and was wowed by some of the pieces, most particularly ‘Bubble Bath’ a wearable necklace of clouds by Nora Fok and the dandelion-clock chandelier.
I don’t need the excuse of an exhibition to go along to the V & A, a museum sometimes overlooked by the visitor to London, but now coming into its own with a series of headline making exhibitions, like last Autumn’s Constable and today’s McQueen. The museum, with an estimated eight miles of walkway in seven buildings, is a home to a remarkable collection of treasures, from the tiny, such as Shah Jahan’s exquisite cameo (see below), to the enormous – the great cast of Trajan’s Column in the newly re-opened cast courts.
Some of my favourites are less lovely, more jolly – the ‘Dacre Beasts’, wooden carvings made during the reign of Henry VIII for Thomas, Lord Dacre, of Cumbria. The heraldic beasts feature on the escutcheons of the Dacre family, or families associated with it. Thomas’ own beast was the bull, right, whose ferocity is undermined, I am afraid to say, by his rather vacuous expression and his bright pink colour. Doubtless, in sixteenth century Cumbria it wouldn’t have mattered, and who was going to argue with Lord Thomas anyway. I suspect the bull was once a deep red and has faded.
I love to roam the galleries here, a bit like Philip Warren, A.S.Byatt’s boy-hero in ‘The Children’s Book’, there is so much that is wonderful to see. But you have to really look at it – it is too easy to walk past just another exquisitely wrought golden Siamese statue, or cast a cursory glance at the intricate arab tilework or the amazing Persian carpet. The objects repay close consideration. This middle-aged woman with failing eyesight peered at a 16th century painting from the Hamzanama, a series commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and was rewarded by finding tiny, precise and beautiful depictions of patterned tiles on the roof of a building which was simply the background to the wedding preparations which occupied the fore and middle ground of the painting.
One way of ensuring that you pay attention is to take a tour, as I did yesterday. Our guide, Vicky, was knowledgeable, erudite and charming and she enhanced my experience tremendously. Please note, these tours are free and do not have to be booked in advance. Just turn up at the meeting point for 10.30 or 11.30 and wait for the guide to arrive.
This guiding tradition, replicated at The Science Museum just along Exhibition Road, is a fine one and everyone in my group was heartily grateful for Vicky’s knowledge. Often the guides are retired people, from the professions associated with their museums. I was once conducted around the Flight Gallery of the Science Museum by an immensely knowledgeable former aeronautics engineer, who was able to explain to a lay person like me, not just which plane flew better or further, but why.
Check out what tours are available – there are specialist Gallery tours as well as a general introductory tour – at the V & A website page. As usual there are more images to be found on my Pinterest Boards at juliej.
If you want to know more about 2015 exhibitions try