Friday, 30 October 2009

Victoria and Albert Museum London

(A view of the dome inside the new Ceramics Gallery at the V&A. Click on the image and it should enlarge to show the installation of ceramics in porcelain called Signs and Wonders by Edmund de Waal.)

Last Wednesday I took a day trip to London to visit the new Ceramics Gallery at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum). The new gallery opened a few weeks ago as phase one of an ongoing refurbishment program which started back in 2005. Another section of the new Ceramics Gallery is planned to open next year. But who can wait till then?! So I thought, what better way to spend a day than looking at lots of lovely pots housed in their brand new home?

On arrival at the main entrance to the V&A, don’t be surprised if the new Ceramics Gallery has no sign posts pointing the way. I admit it was a little surprising to me considering the large advertisement pasted onto the refurbishment hoardings along the outside of the building encouraging me to come in and visit. But this trifling matter of signage can’t stop a potter finding pots! So if you plan to visit, here’s your route:-

Currently the only access to the new galleries is a small lift/elevator hidden away to your left as you enter through the main entrance. It’s a tiny lift that doesn’t even feel like it’s supposed to be open to the public. But it is the only way to get to level six which is where the new galleries live - don’t expect to casually stumble across them as you wander around the rest of the museum! (The V&A has a floor plan rather like an Escher print where the levels don’t necessarily connect.)

First impressions as you enter the new galleries is a very clean, white, modern display. In fact I think they’ve done an excellent job of making the rooms feel light and simple without being stark. The cabinets are big, filling all the wall spaces and are absolutely stuffed full of pots – especially in the first couple of rooms. Now I assume this is simply because the galleries are in transition and eventually the pots will be spread out: in fact as you walk through to the later rooms the displays seem more finished or finalized. Initially though it was a bit overwhelming and most of the time I couldn’t see any single pot for all the lovely distracting pots huddled around it!

I probably spent an hour walking around – but it really isn’t time enough to absorb in detail. As for reading the captions, I’m afraid I cheated and started to photograph them to read later. Visits to museums are always plagued by tired legs and thoughts of catching trains home, and caption reading feels like a waste of ‘seeing’ time! Much better to remember the image of a pot than try to recall the date it was made, in what province and under which dynasty. That’s the sort of information best absorbed while sitting on a sofa reading a book. And as for the videos – I didn’t even start on those…

I suppose the cabinet I spent most time looking at wasn’t full of pots at all, but actually full of lots of tools, equipment and furniture that once belonged to the studio potter Lucie Rie. The cabinet is a reconstruction of a corner of Lucie Rie’s workshop and contains the items she used – including two kick wheels – as they were found in her studio after her death. It sounds like a cheap gimmick and could have been a disaster, but I think they’ve managed to do it tastefully and respectfully and without it looking staged. In fact it looked like the perfect place to make a pot. Simple, functional and quietly elegant. As I looked at all the little personalized turning tools stuck vertically to a magnetic strip just within handy reach above the wheel-head, I admit I felt a tad envious. It probably didn’t help to realize the dimensions of the cabinet itself were actually larger than my own little studio back home! C’est la vie…

No comments:

Post a Comment