Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Victoria and Albert Madness

September 6, 2010 · 3 Comments

When going to the Victoria and Albert Museum the first rule is: do not get a map.  It is completely useless.  It will only make you more confused (if that is at all possible).  The Victoria and Albert is like no other museum I’ve ever been to.  Instead of the sparse but well cataloged rooms of the British Museum or the abstract instillation art of the Tate Modern, there is just “stuff.”  It feels as if one has stumbled into a very eccentric, very wealthy old man’s closet.  There is a vague sense of organization, but the curator has not stuck to a strict order.  Instead one is assaulted with a variety of priceless artifacts.  To top the disorganization of the rooms is the disorganization of the building itself.  The rooms flow into one another like a maze.  From the moment I walked in I should have known that it was going to be a completely new experience — immediately outside of the tube station there was an exhibit filled with treasures that would have been centerpiece at many smaller museums.  I then continued into the fashion exhibit which was filled with a barrage priceless vintage clothing from across the world.  From there we went through the sculpture hall to the one piece that I felt summed up the museum as a whole:  a book tower.  It was a multi-storied wooden structure just filled with a random assortment of books — everything from romance novels to Chaucer to Russian literature.  This disorganization and jumble of priceless and random books should have been an indicator that my day was about to get a lot more impressive.

(courtesy of http://www.vam.ac.uk/things-to-do/blogs/11-architects-build-small-spaces)

The madness of the Victoria and Albert reached its pinnacle in the Medieval and Renaissance section where upon a cursory browsing I stumbled upon a little journal tucked away behind a wall.  This journal was not accompanied with any great display or paired with a painting or some other artifact — it stood on its own.  This unassuming little book turned out to be a Da Vinci journal.  If it had not been for the presence of a gold plaque indicating that it was something special I would not have even read the explanation.  However, it was a room full or gold plaques and priceless artifacts and it was a completely fluke that I stopped and looked.  From this point on, I just gave up.  I was too incredulous to take the Victoria and Albert seriously.  In a world where small local museums are starving for artifacts the Victoria and Albert have so many that they just cannot display them to their full potential.  I personally wish that the Victoria and Albert would loan out items to eliminate the clutter and share their wealth.  This would make the museum less overwhelming and it would allow more people to view more fascinating treasures.

Categories: 2010 Amy · Museums · Uncategorized

3 responses so far ↓

  •   Matthew Michrina // Sep 7th 2010 at 11:54

    I had a very similar experience. I went straight for the 4th floor, because my dad wanted a picture of a certain glass piece. Just getting up there took over half an hour. With the exception of the really confusing layout however, I very much enjoyed the conglomeration of artifacts, even if in some cases they weren’t organized very well. Also, I noticed, at least on the upper floors, a lot of the pieces were missing because they were out on loan. Maybe this wasn’t the case in the parts you were in though.

  •   stepheniem // Sep 7th 2010 at 15:39

    I enjoyed the Medieval & Renaissance galleries. While they are packed full, the gold didactics do help when trying to do a quick run through, as it identifies the most important parts of the collection. There are a lot of very important artifacts, which are great to see in one place. From a medieval standpoint, it is very difficult to find works that are complete and to see that many (and of such an astounding quality) is incredible. I believe one of the reasons some of those works aren’t going to be loaned out for awhile is because a selection of them just returned to the V&A after a traveling exhibition (which stopped at the Met) while the galleries were under renovation. (The M&R galleries just reopened this last fall from said renovation.)

  •   emilym // Sep 7th 2010 at 18:08

    I also noticed throughout the V & A a few places in which items were missing, with notes in their places that said they were on loan. I didn’t think much of the fact that they were missing while I was there. Your post makes me realize what an amazing resource the V & A must be to smaller museums who borrow its items for their exhibitions.

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