28 September 2012

Friday Late at the V&A (September 2012)

Somehow the Friday Late nights at the V&A slipped from being a habit to an occasional event and I was shocked to learn that I had not been to one for just over two years.

Of course I had been to the V&A a few times meanwhile but that was either for the main exhibitions or just passing through, not for a late night.

I can only presume that the nights clashed with theatre dates or did not appeal to me for some reason. This one did though.

That was because there was a very full programme and a lot of it interested me, especially the rare chance to go up on the roof.

I expected the roof to be the main attraction of the evening so with a published start time of 6:30pm I was first in the queue not long after 6:00pm.

That proved to be a good move as they were only taking up ten people at a time and each tour lasted half an hour, that meant a maximum of around 70 people altogether.

Being there first also meant that I got to go up while there was still some light.

The part of the roof that we went on is not that special in itself but from there we could see the layout of the whole museum, and some of the related buildings in Exhibition Road.

Our guide gave us a comprehensive history of how the site grew out of the ideals of the Great Exhibition and has developed over the years with other buildings being built or assimilated in to the complex.

We also had excellent views down in to the John Madejski Garden and of the building that started life as the South Kensington Museum.


The people gathered in the emptied water feature below were doing something with hula-hoops, another of the events in the Friday Late programme. I was happy to miss that one. I've tried hoops on the Wii Fit and it is not my best exercise.

Every visit to the V&A includes a stop in the cafe and every visit to the cafe includes taking a few pictures of the spectacular rooms that house it.

I was a little surprised, and also pleased, at just how busy the cafe was. Clearly museums and galleries opening late is a popular idea.

As was making them free to go to. We have a lot to thank the last Labour Government for.

From there it was the usual semi-random exploration of the galleries. Those near to the cafe, such as the silver gallery above, are becoming almost familiar but I hope that I never see the day when I can find my way around the V&A with any degree of confidence. The certainty of getting lost and the unexpected discoveries that brings with it is what the V&A is all about.

By accident I discovered one of the evening's other main attractions, the Cloud Caves.

The caves were constructed of thin translucent plastic (frequently repaired with sticky tape) and were inflated by small fans.

The effect was suitably eerie with the other people clearly heard but only partially seen.

The caves were laid out as a small maze so just negotiating your way in and out was not trivial. I was not the only person who hit a dead-end and had to turn back.

Getting to the Cloud Caves and back was a slow task as the attractions of the V&A are effective sirens for anyone with a vaguely artistic eye. I stopped many times to look as silver, stained glass and paintings.

All that meant that it was time to look for a beer.


I headed toward the garden, despite the cold, but the corner bar there was not open so it was back to the main cafe. Fine with me.

Over the beer I looked at the Treasure Trail included in the programme for the evening. This gave a series of instructions and clues to send you around the museum to find specific objects.

It was not meant to be difficult and I could see that my earlier walk had taken me past a lot of them but there were more to do and so off I went again.

This time I found myself in the south-east corner of the complex, somewhere above the main exhibition space, where mysterious corridors led to mysterious places.

Not all of the rooms were open for the out-of-hours event, which is probably just as well as that put some constraint on how much I could be pulled away from whatever plan I was working to.

For some reason I kept finding dresses, and this was without going in to the exhibition on ballgowns that I must get to before in closes in January.

Surrounding the ballgowns exhibition is the fashion display and that is where I found these dresses. There were other dresses elsewhere, such as in the new arrivals display.

As always at the V&A, I saw and did far more in my time there, about four hours this time, than I could reasonably describe here and so I'll I've tried to do is to give a flavour of the activities and sights.

This was an exceptionally rewarding evening, even by the V&A's very high standards. I will, of course, be going back before too long, possibly to see the ballgowns, and I will definitely look out for future Friday Late's.

My only regret from the evening is that the V&A did not stick with the name the Museum of Artistic Excellence.

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