On Wednesday at 9 am I made my way across to Dundee to catch a glimpse of the sun-soaked oak panels of the dramatic new V&A building. As you cross the Tay Bridge the museum stands on the Dundee shorefront, impossible to miss. Sydney might have the Opera House but Dundee has the V&Tay!
It may be a completely new building and Scotland’s first design gallery, but it maintains a great relationship with the environment and history around it. Next time look to your left when crossing over the bridge to Dundee and you will see the sails from the RRS Discovery poking out from behind the building creating the impression that the V&A itself is taking sail. On Saturday the V&A’s doors will launch open to the public, setting sail for a new journey of discovery. I managed to get an early look-in to the museum going “undercover” as a reporter to their press conference (another word for gate-crashing).
You may be wondering how on earth I managed to wriggle my way into the press conference and looking around all the galleries before the public? Truth is, if you don’t ask you don’t get! I am very thrilled that the V&A were so inviting and open to press (even to great student publications such as this one). But I have to admit I felt like total fraud at the press reception mainly because I didn’t have a branded lanyard or a massive fluffy microphone.
Directors of the V&A, Philip Long and Tristram Hunt highlighted how they were most proud of the Scottish Design Galleries within the V&A which feature a fully restored recreation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room from 1907. Fantastic in its restoration, the restored parts are faithful to the original in their aesthetic and appearance. We spoke to Hugh Garratt project manager for the construction of the Oak Room and he explained that many of the lights were replicated from their original so accurately that it is hard to differentiate between the original and reproduction. The glass production used by Mackintosh was so rare that there was only one factory in Germany that can still make it. Having seen this I totally agree that it is what stood out the most and certainly something for Dundee to be proud of.
Surrounding the Mackintosh Oak room there are over 300 exhibits drawn from museums and private collections across Scotland and globally. These objects vary from textiles, fashion, architecture, bank notes and video games. You’ll find an Alexander McQueen dress from his Scottish collection and a Star Wars costume. These objects may sound random but as a collective they form a unique narrative of Scottish history.
A general opinion is that the building resembles either a ship entering the sea and or a cliff-face on the waterfront. Amphibious and nautical is how director of the V&A in London Tristram Hunt has described the building. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma’s building echoes the form of giant ship, made from natural materials and an organic forms. He puts a strict emphasis on nature throughout the interior and exterior. His vision was to create “a living room for the city” on the Dundee waterfront. This costly and ambitious design has exceeded expectations in its scale, cost and growing tourist attraction. With the completion of the building tourist overnight stays increased by almost 10% from this April. It is hoped that the V&A has the same regeneration effect as the Tate Liverpool, Turner Contemporary in Margate or even the Hepworth & Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield.
Ocean Liners: Speed and Style a very fitting inaugural exhibition for Kengo Kuma’s nautical design of the building. It was perfectly summed up by co-curator Ghislaine Wood as “a city at sea”. It documents the glitz and glamour of travel using fascinating items which were aboard the cruise ships. A must see is the Cartier diamond tiara recovered from the sinking Lusitania in 1915 as well as a panel from the first class lounge of the Titanic. The intention of the exhibition is to emulate the feeling of being on board a giant ocean liner.
If you’re still not convinced that you should take that 30 minute bus journey from St Andrews to Dundee and the prospect of seeing both galleries AND Kengo Kuma’s impressive exterior and interior architecture, then you should also know that entry into the museum is free!