Without a doubt, one of my most favourite and one of the best museums in London to visit is the stunning V&A (Victoria and Albert) in South Kensington.
Museum “central”: The V&A is located close to two other major museums, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. This is ideal for tourists as all are grouped so close to each other, and within a short walking distance from South Kensington Tube. It is also fairly close to another major attraction: Harrods. Not surprisingly the V&A, and other museums, attract large crowds of all ages and types – both locals and many tourists.
Free Entrance to main collections: Like all museums in the UK, entry is free although they do encourage you to make a donation on entry of round £3, and then they run many paid for exhibitions as well within the museum. These are usually partly funded by sponsors and cost around £10 to enter.
Design focus: The grand building, built around the 1900s, is named after the then Queen and her husband to house a growing collection of design related items. This remarkable 6 story building has evolved, modernised and been updated over the years. Today, the museum is best known for a large permanent collection and its focused feature exhibitions. The latter usually having an entrance charge for.
The main focus of the collection is around fashion and clothes across many centuries. They also have an impressive collection of jewellery, glassware, furniture, metalware, paintings, sliver and related items from around the world.
The galleries are arranged by region and then by focused topics.
Special Exhibitions. There are usually one or two exhibitions running at any time at the V&A. One will usually be focused on fashion, such as the “Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950” Exhibition in 2012 (see photos and review further down the posting) and another on a broader design topic. Such as the one running in 2012 on “British Design: Innovation in The Modern Age 1948 – 2012” (the 2 years that London has hosted the Olympics). As mentioned, these usually cost around £10 each to enter.
Cafe & Restaurant: There is a very large and impressive cafe/ restaurant which has a mixture of modern areas and then grand areas. The decor is breathtaking. There are many stations offering a wide selection of food and drinks. Many years ago, a well meaning marketing/ agency ran an ad when it opened promising a great cafe with a good museum attached. The museum professionals were less impressed, but it created a lot of buzz.
Shopping. There is a massive gift shop after the main entrance, and another major book store within the museum. There is also usually some focused retail areas based on the exhibitions going on. Most of the items are inspired by or based on items in the collections. Usually the museum will issue a glossy tabletop style book based on the exhibitions.
Education and buzz: The museum invests a lot in education programs and runs talks. It also attracts a lot of students of design and fashion, and so despite being a museum does have an energy and passion about it as it attracts a youthful crowd. It is so busy, also due to the cafe and then the large and very interesting shops inside selling books, cards and many items based on items and designs in the museum.
Photography. You are able to take photos in most of the museum of the regular collections. Unfortunately, you usually cannot take photos of the special exhibitions. The V&A has on their site the ability to download some high quality images of many of the collection items.
Examples of the types of exhibitions the V&A runs:
Ballgowns : British Glamour Since 1950
The Ballgowns exhibition (May 2012 to January 2013), is an example of the sort of amazing design focused special exhibitions run at the V&A London. Featuring gowns loaned by designers or the owners of the gowns it is a spectacular and impressive display of design and the story of the gown – and who wore them and why. Included is one worn by Princess Diana.
The British Design 1948 – 2012 exhibition (March – August 2012) covers design between the 2 times that London hosted the Olympic Games.
It shows how buildings, objects, and images evolved and were influenced by events across the period. It covers furniture, buildings, pop culture and technology.
A large exhibition that has themed and focused areas on various areas and times, such as Punk, Pop Video and some landmark buildings
Some photos below, to see all my photos I have taken at the V&A on Flickr: click here
Visit the official V&A Site