The V&A - the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's enough to send shivers down the spine, to conjure up images of vast halls filled with historic treasures: paintings, sculptures, costumes, jewelry . . . . The list goes on and on. And let me tell you, the V&A does not disappoint.
First of all, it is vast. As the world's leading museum of art and design, there are around 60,000 items on display spanning two thousand years of art in every medium and from many parts of the world. The building takes up what amounts to a city block, covering seven miles and consisting of six stories.
The displays are beautifully, if rather haphazardly, organized, and there is no way everything can be seen in one viewing.
Maps are available, and they help narrow down the options so one can focus on three or four areas, but even using it I got lost. Stairwells are obscure, and not every flight of stairs goes to every floor. Construction and improvements are going on in several wings as well, causing detours and difficulties moving from room to room.
However, I was able to find what I was looking for, and stumbled upon something I wasn't expecting.
Obviously, the fashion section was where I headed first, conveniently located on the first floor. Displays can be difficult to plan, but it always helps when you have an absolutely gorgeous room to do it in:
The costumes were displayed chronologically, moving clockwise. They begin in the 1750's and moved up through the 20th century, which seems to be a common theme. (This is because there are very few surviving garments from the 17th and 16th centuries, and any thing pre-1500 is considered an archaeological find. These clothes are often found in the earth, either naturally buried or in graves, and are often attached to decomposing human corpses. Such clothing therefore requires different removal processes and care from the clothing you normally see displayed.)
The curators at the V&A chose to display the costumes in a mash-up between the Bath Fashion Museum's Georgian display and Victorian display, with a bit more naturalism thrown in. They were put in their own little "rooms" like the Victorian, but without the boxes and with more style like the Georgian. They also interspersed period furniture, accessories, and paintings throughout to create little snapshots or vignettes of the time.
The use of props added to the level of engagement with the costumes, especially the paintings, where actual people could be seen wearing and living in their clothes.
The clothing, to no ones surprise, was absolutely exquisite.
Probably the most exciting part was seeing pieces I've poured over in books and online up close and in person:
In spite of what you might think from my writing so far, there is actually a lot more to do and see in the V&A than old clothes. Some of the highlights I sought out were the cast courts:
The 'Jewellery' [British spelling] display was jaw-dropping, just row after row of priceless treasures. So many, in fact, that the sheer quantity almost cheapened the value of them all.
What I was not expecting was a complete display on Theatre & Performance, which I accidentally came across while looking at Medieval tapestries.
![image](https://res.cloudinary.com/frannsoft/image/upload/v1580129894/blackcatwhiterabbit/v-a/53.jpg "Upon my first entering, I was met with these stunning costumes. The monitor on the floor plays a loop about the theatrical play "The Lion King.")
There was an area for the modernist, surreal plays, which I don't normally go for, but this dress symbolizing (I think) Birth from iTOMI (in The Mind Of Igor, a play inspired by Igor Stravinski's The Right of Spring and is based on three words: rupture, death, and birth), I thought was visually arresting and warranted a spot in this blog.
All in all, I got to see everything I wanted to see, but I could easily go back and discover a mess of new things. I walked through art from China, Korea, South Asia (India), and South-East Asia; I browsed sculpture from 1300-1600, I meandered through a room dedicated to Raphael, and lingered over the Medieval and Renaissance artifacts from 1350-1600. And that was only on the first floor.
The building is stately and grand, with an outdoor space for picnicking, chatting, and playing in the large water feature:
The front entrance is adorned with a glorious glass "chandelier":
Emblazoned on the arch opposite, in bright lights all lit up, the words "ALL OF THIS BELONGS TO YOU."
And isn't that what it's all about? The reason museums exist? To show people their inheritance, the great works of the past, be they art or artifact, silk or silver, beautiful or grotesque: All of this belongs to us.
Information taken from:
V&A website- About Us: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/a/about-us/
V&A website- History: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/h/history-of-the-v-and-a/
V&A Map, Spring/Summer 2015
London, Pocket Rough Guide. Rough Guides Ltd., Strand, London. 2015., page 135