17 May 2014

Lucky Dips at the V&A

I had an afternoon to fill between a comics signing in Central London and a theatre date in Hammersmith so the V&A was the obvious place to go. So I went.

The first destination was easy to choose and I headed to the cafe for a coffee and a cake. The cake was an easy choice too and I had my first scone and cream of the season. I then sat comfortably in the cafe and used my iPad and the visitors' free wi-fi to see what was on and to make my plan for the afternoon.

Three small exhibitions caught my attention so I set off to do all three.

First I went to Room 104 in the theatre section to see an exhibition on William Shakespeare.

This was a small room with an assortment of diverse objects arranged around the outside. I always like to see models of stage sets and there were a couple on display.

The main feature of the exhibition was an audio-visual booth in the centre of the room. This sat six to eight people, depending on size and friendliness, on a single curved bench that faced two sets of screens suspended at odd angles.

The programme was a series of interviews with Shakespearean actors and directors. While they spoke on one of the screens the other screens were used to show things like extracts from performances and extracts from scripts. This worked excellently and the quick-fire change of people and their interesting insights made this as interesting a programme about Shakespeare that I had seen.

The proof of this pudding was in its eating and I sat through the programme for the full fifteen to twenty minutes it took to start repeating itself.

My next destination was room 102.

As I was already in Room 104 that should not have been that hard to find but the V&A is delightfully confusing, and that is one of the reasons that I like it.

I was almost wandering around in circle when I came across a Beatrix Potter drawing and as that is what I was looking for I, rightly, concluded that I was in Room 102. A reason that it was hard to find was because it was a corridor rather than an exhibition room. Well, that's my excuse.

This was not the traditional, cosy, view of Beatrix Potter but a look at her work around the time of World War I.

There was still a Peter Rabbit but this was a political cartoon. Here Potter was protesting against the unofficial Peter Rabbit toys that were coming in from Germany and undercutting the official local craftsmen and women.

Another political comment was in a letter Potter wrote about the possibility of drafting working horses in to the war. She argued that they should be left working on the land.

There were several pretty watercolours from Potter on show.

My favourite was a simple one of the countryside under snow and it is a mystery why I did not take a picture of that one with either of the cameras that I was using. This one is not a bad substitute though.

I knew that I liked Shakespeare but had never been much of a Potter fan (despite buying dozens of the Beswick figurines for Mum) but I became something of one thanks to this display. I would not claim that she was a master artist but her drawings were very evocative and successfully captured the mood of the countryside.

It was also interesting to read some of her letters to discover just a little more about the famous woman.

My final destination was Room 128a. Coming from Room 102 that should have been easy but the V&A's novel room numbering system meant that 128a was nowhere near 102. It was not even on the same floor. Rooms 102 and 104 were on Level 3 at the back of the museum whereas Room 128a was on Level 4 at the front.

I was heading there for Empire Builders: 1750-1950 which was part of RIBA's Brits Who Built the Modern World season, having seen the main exhibition at RIBA the previous month.

As the title suggested, the display looked at works by British architects across the Empire. In some ways this was a prequel to the main exhibition in that it covered the period before the famous architects, Foster et al, emerged and so gave the context for their new ways of working.

The projects shown were from across the Empire and were often an interesting mix of styles familiar to this country and those of the occupied territory. For example, the building above is clearly Gothic but has domes on the turrets that would not be seen in Britain.

The buildings were typically public service buildings like railway stations, hospitals, schools and, of course, governors' residences and as such they tended to be on the grand side.

Room 128a was hardly big, yet such was the amount and quality of information on display it took me a fair while to get through it all. I was not watching time too closely but I must have been in that one room for half an hour.

I had only decided to go to the V&A earlier that day and had not chosen which rooms to go to until I had arrived there and still it managed to find three very different things to educate and entertain me for a couple of hours. That's why the V&A is just about my favourite museum, place and thing.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't been to the V&A for a while...your pick n mix style post has raised it's lovely profile again in my list of 'things to do'. Thanks Matthew!


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