Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 15: V&A Day!

Anyone who has every heard me talk about London, or museums, or possibly a variety of other subjects (I love to talk about the V&A!) knows just how much I love the Victoria & Albert Museum. I. Love. It. Whatever a person has interests in, whatever types of museums a person usually likes, everyone, I am certain, can find something to interest and excite in the V&A. Everyone. Their holdings are so diverse, and their exhibits always changing, so that there are always wonderful new things to see there. Thus, I am proud to say that the V&A is the one single place I've returned to on each of my visits to London. I will not miss this museum.

Thursday's visit was by no means a disappointment. Indeed, I am so excited about the things that I saw, that I am half-tempted just to make a bulleted list of links to the great things I saw so that you can explore them yourselves. But, because I am afraid that those of you who haven't witnessed the wonders of the V&A would just skip looking at them, I'll talk about what I saw. And happily.

Some friends and I got to the museum soon after it opened in order to avoid too large of crowds at the current exhibit Grace Kelly: Style Icon. As the V&A is a museum of art and aesthetics, they have a permanent exhibit on fashion, and they more often than not have special exhibits on the topic as well (e.g. I've seen one on the fashion of the Supremes and on hats, both awesome). This particular exhibit focused on specific outfits and ensembles that the Kelly wore at various stages of her life: as actress, as bride to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, as Princess Grace, and as an enduring style icon. I really loved the way the museum blended the actual outfits and descriptions of them with photos of Kelly wearing them--on film, at the Academy Awards, in Monaco, with foreign dignitaries, &c. They also had about 12 minutes of film and television footage of her wearing some of these beautiful pieces interspersed throughout the exhibit. Thus I got to see, in one corner of the exhibit, the film scene from High Society in which Kelly wears a party dress; a photograph of her on set in that same dress; and the dress itself. The narrative created by the information panels and objects really characterized Kelly in a new way.

On an entirely different note, I was captivated by an architectural exhibit throughout the museum, 1:1 - Architects Build Small Spaces. The exhibit consisted of seven unique built structures, small-scale "escapes" that were chosen from nineteen architects' submissions to be fully realized within the V&A. They were all so interesting and whimsical, but I definitely had a favorite. It was The Ark, a wooden structure that was essentially a three-stories-tall bookcase--books lined all the exterior walls--with a spiral staircase winding around the centre, where one could repose for a bit on reading benches. Really, anything resembling a bookcase is bound to catch my attention. But a bookcase haven escape? That catches my attention and fancy, full stop.

Inspired by all this architectural thought, I went up to the architecture section of the museum, where I had never before visited. Some of the models were really interesting. I always enjoy looking at floor plans of houses (odd, I know), but these three-dimensional models of actual buildings really expanded on that enjoyment.

Next was the glass gallery, another room I hadn't visited on my previous visits. Really, it was like walking into the most amazing showroom in Murano--everything was bright-coloured glass, and the gallery walls were covered in mirrors, making the light bounce around everything even more. I couldn't help imagining that, with some of the fantastic glass vases on display, the addition of flowers to the vases wouldn't ever be aesthetically necessary.

I made my requisite stop in the photography gallery--the photos on these walls change every few months, so I have always been guaranteed to see things new and interesting on every visit. This time the museum was displaying images from the 1970s to the present, showing in small samples the movements through which the art has gone in the last four decades.

Lunch! I absolutely love the cafe at the V&A (I'm pretty sure that's no secret, either). They really have delicious food, nothing like the McDonald's or Pizza Hut one tends to find rented out in American museums these days. I enjoyed a chicken, carrot, and spinach pot pie, and later had a yummy scone for tea. I love sitting in the ornate old rooms that make up some of the seating area for the cafe; I don't know that I've seen many rooms more beautiful:

After lunch was a tour of the National Art Library housed within the museum. I have really enjoyed on this library adventure getting to go into secret-like library places within some of the buildings I love most in London! This visit to the National Art Library, I assure you, was no exception.

Following the tour, and before making my requisite visit to the museum shop (the best museum shop in the world, I am convinced), I ventured into the History, Periods, and Styles galleries up on the fourth floor. I love moving slowly through these rooms filled with the items that filled really people's houses throughout British history. I particularly enjoy going to the Regency area of the gallery; I love having a new view in mind of the settings for Jane Austen and her novels after visiting these rooms. Something about seeing the dinner services and furniture that would make up the scenes of an Austen book, details that enrich one's reading but which she never focuses upon herself...

I discovered a new small room off of these historic style rooms. This small room houses a film screen and some rows of comfortable chairs where one can sit and watch videos detailing aspects of British history and life. I loved seeing the insides and outsides, and how they changed, of English country houses in one film, and I found it very interesting to learn about the Great Exhibition, how the V&A got its start, in another. On my next visit to the museum, whenever that may be, I'll have to make sure to see what if any new videos are available.

You're probably thinking I've talked far too much about what I did and saw at the V&A. All these things are what comprised my visit, however, and I hope you found even just one thing interesting enough to click through a link and see and learn a bit more! I'll leave you with an image of the lovely hydrangeas lining the V&A's central courtyard (everything here is beautiful!):

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