Victoria & Albert Museum review
I'm sitting here waiting for the Victoria & Albert Museum to open, watching three hundred school kids getting loaded off a coach. They are drowning out the traffic, that is how loud they are. And soon they will be running round the museum like a bunch of nutters. I wish I'd bought my earmuffs with me now. Ah well. You live and learn.
It's certainly a very handsome looking building from the outside. It's more like a cathedral than a museum. I think I'm starting to turn into Prince Charles. I'm starting to agree with a lot of the stuff he says -- that’s a bit worrying. I don’t mean all that baloney about talking to the plants... I don’t have conversations with my plant pots. I'm talking about when he has a moan at architects and wants to run around demolishing all the buildings they've put up. He's right! When I look at buildings like St Pancras Chambers, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum -- all relatively modern buildings in the grand scheme of things (only 150-ish years old), I can't help thinking that these are the end of the line. We are never going to see stuff like this being built ever again.
What are the chances of someone building the V&A these days? It just costs too much money. No one wants to spend their money on bricks and concrete. They just blow the lowest amount possible on a steel and glass box, and leave the rest in the bank earning interest. All the big marquee buildings that have gone up in recent years have been glass and steel skyscrapers. You don't get decorated stone stuff anymore.
We can forget about building something as spectacular as St. Paul's Cathedral. If that got bombed out during the war then I hate to think what we would have ended up with. If the Houses of Parliament had burnt down this century, instead of the last one, do you reckon we would have got the gothic-looking Westminster Palace? Nope, we would have got a concrete modern-art piece like the Scots got lumbered with. But who cares anyway. We do have a few good buildings left in London, and I'm staring at one right now.
All I know about this museum from London guidebooks is that it is full of tables and chairs and dresses, and old teapots and china cups. It is the museum of fashion and design, and doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. I don't think I'm the target audience. But I have been surprised before, so maybe my journey down here won't have been a complete waste of time. (Jeez, I'm in a bad mood today!)
The China bit is nice enough I suppose -- if you like teapots and chamber pots. They've got some statues and tapestries in there, and some of those light blue and white Ming dynasty vases that probably cost a fortune. There's not a lot you can say about it really. It's a teapot. It's old. It's a vase. It's old as well. Yeah, nice. It would look better with some daffodils in it.
The Japanese stuff is a bit better. They've got a load of daggers and swords and some of that fantastically intricate leather armour from the days of the Samurai. If I had a suit of armour like that I would never wear it into battle, that is for sure. I'd be afraid of getting it all smashed up. They’ve got lots of folding screens and paper fans too. One thing that I do quite like are those old Chinese watercolours of pretty little blossom trees and waterfalls. Very delicate like a breeze. They've got a load of very pretty scenes that are worth a gander.
Oh... my... Lord. Do you remember when I said I wasn't looking forward to visiting this museum? Well, ignore all of that -- I was talking rubbish. I have just stumbled into the most amazing room I have ever seen in a museum. It is full of tombs and statues and huge concrete columns from the wreck of Rome. We are talking full-size tombs in here, of kings and queens and nobles, crucifixes of Jesus looking down, church altars and balconies, huge decorated building fronts twenty feet tall, all plastered with fantastic sculptures of praying saints and angels. They've even got Trajan's Column in here!
Do you remember that scene at the end of Indiana Jones when the Ark gets carted off to that big warehouse full of ancient treasures? Well, this is that room. The movie has come to life. Alas, none of them are real. They are all plaster cast and concrete impressions, but that doesn't ruin the view though. What a great room!
The Islamic galleries are a bit more sedate. I think Muslims have got a rule that you're not allowed to draw a picture of their God. So all their art is covered in geometric patterns and stripes and lines instead. If you took all the pictures of Jesus and the saints and angels out of the National Gallery they'd have hardly anything left, so I wonder what Islamic art galleries are like?
Their rooms at the V&A are full of plates and pots and carpets. The centre of the room is dominated by a big Persian rug. They've got a big display of bright blue tiles as well, that would look quite nice in my bathroom.
They like a nice bit of carpet in India too -- their rooms are full of mats and rugs as well. If the V&A ever gets bored of being a museum then could open up a branch of CarpetLand.
I'm not in a bad mood anymore, by the way -- the more I look around this place the more I'm liking it. I have just found a very pretty open courtyard for coffee, all done in the same style as the Royal Albert Hall -- red and yellow terracotta friezes around carved-columned balconies. They've got a little pool of water in the middle where the pigeons paddle their feet. That's one of the good things about London -- quite often the inside of a building is a complete surprise. It's like a chocolate box inside a brown paper bag -- you can't tell what you're going to see until you walk through the door.
This next gallery is full of Jesus. If you love Jesus then this is the place for you. They've got stained glass windows, statues, stone carvings, paintings, delicately crafted wooden crosses... every kind of Jesus under the sun. Have you ever wondered about the important role of hats in history? I have. I am reflecting on this now, as I stare at a picture of Jesus on the cross. Imagine if he was wearing a baseball hat instead of a crown of thorns -- straight away the whole mood of the picture changes. If he was wearing a top hot and tails on the cross then no one would have taken him seriously. If you're getting crucified, then a crown of thorns is definitely the way to go -- he certainly had an eye for the right hat, did Jesus.
The stained glass windows are quite intriguing. They are brightly lit from behind and glow with brilliantly deep colours. I've never taken the time to appreciate a window before, but they are quite beguiling. They've got a statue of St. Peter too, riddled with woodworm.
Wow. There are more stained glass windows upstairs and these ones are even better. A gloomy corridor punctuated with the bright colours of God. Deep greens and yellows and reds -- these things really glow bright when they're six feet from your nose. The cabinets are filled with golden goblets, chalices, flagons for wine, and plates the size of wagon wheels. Lots of silver pewter too, and chunky thick crosses and ornate little boxes for jewellery and keepsakes. A few of them probably had the finger bones of saints inside, or a sliver of wood from the one true cross (someone's garden fence, more likely). The church certainly had a bit of money to spend. If you've ever wondered where your collection money goes every Sunday then here it is... they blew the lot on trinkets.
More rooms full of golden plates and jugs. It just goes on and on, rooms and rooms full of gold and silver stuff. I'd hate to think how much all this stuff is worth. There are more treasures in here than in King Solomon's mine! Huge silver shields and swords and candlesticks too, golden guns and rifles. The next time I'm thinking about robbing a bank I'll make a detour to this place instead. All they've got for security are a few old birds and suited-up students sitting on a stool by the door.
Okay... so now they are taking the mick. As if they don't have enough treasures already, now I have entered a gallery full of Constables and Turners. And not just the odd picture either -- but a whole room full of them. This one solitary room has got twenty-two different Constables in it. The next one has got some Gainsborough’s.
Is this place a museum or a gallery? It seems to make a decent stab at each.
The jewellery room is quite a sight. It's pitch black like a bank vault, with illuminated cases filled with a woman's dream. I can see them all drooling against the glass, nudging their husbands hint hint hint. That is what I want for my birthday, they are saying, pointing out the rings and things. Do they do these in the gift shop, dear? No, they don't, he says.
Even the theatre section is worth a look. They've got cabinets filled with outlandish costumes, props for plays, and some old Christmas panto posters too. And right in the heart of a darkened room is Shakespeare's First Folio. They've got some nice little pop-up theatre scenes too, and models of famous stagings of Swan Lake and the like, complete with tiny little matchstick ballerinas.
The final section I see is the dresses. A whole room full of them, from the early 19th-century right up to the 1960s miniskirt. Not my cup of tea. But I've seen enough good stuff already to recommend a visit. This place has jumped right up to No.2 on my list of favourite London museums (behind the Natural History Museum). And to think I was a right moody git this morning and nearly went home!
Guest – How busy does the V&A get on a Saturday? Does one need to book tickets in advance for Alexander McQueen's exhibition?
Admin – You can buy them in advance on their website if you want, but you don't have to. You can buy them on the day as well. It does get quite busy. Not as busy as the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum next-door though, because they are the kid-friendly ones.
Events at Victoria & Albert Museum…
|Exhibitions in April|
|Exhibitions in May|
|Exhibitions in June|