on September 15, 2010
The Victoria & Albert Museum is located on Brompton Road, London, very close to South Kensington tube station and beside the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. It was founded in 1852, named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is a museum of decorative arts and design, including collections of ceramics, silverware, jewellery and also collections by area, from the Far East, Europe and many other places. Entry is free, although a donation is encouraged from each visitor and you are asked to donate £1 for a map (which you will need). There are always a few special exhibitions going on, some of which have entry charges. I've visited the V&A on a few occasions now, and I still haven't seen all of it. It really is a massive building, and some of the galleries have so much packed in to them that you can spend all day in one section of the museum. There must surely be something for everyone in this museum - the exhibits range from ancient (up to 5000 years old I believe) to contemporary art. On my visits, I've spent most time in the "materials" galleries, that is silver, ceramics, jewellery and the like. I visited the jewellery collection with my mum last year, and it was quite stunning. All the items are displayed in well-lit glass cases (the room itself is a little dim so as to give the best effect to the case lighting), and they are fascinating and beautiful. The items are laid out so as to tell stories of jewellery fashions and manufacturing changes through time. Similarly, the fashion gallery is dim while the clothes on display are well-lit. As with many of the V&A collections, this is a walk through time where you can easily see the change in fashions and materials used. On this year's return visit, my parents and I visited the newly reopened ceramics galleries. This was the main reason for our visit, as my mum is very interested in ceramics/china, and the galleries had been closed for refurbishment on our last visit. The ceramics galleries render you speechless. We came out of the lift, rounded a corner and were confronted with floor to ceiling china. In addition to the main collection which is on show and fully labelled, the V&A utilises "visible storage" for the ceramics collections. This means that everything they have is effectively on display. There are ceiling high, unlabelled yet fairly organised glass cases which hold the bulk of the collection which is not officially "on display" - although it is technically, it is not nicely presented and labelled. There are several rooms to the ceramics galleries, covering British, European and Asian ceramics, and then there are further rooms which are dedicated to modern, pottery and studio ceramics. Further to that there is a room of contemporary ceramics, which is a very impressive high ceilinged room with a hole in the middle through which you can see down 6 floors to the main atrium of the museum (don't worry, there is a fence around the hole). These contemporary arty ceramics were on the whole a bit weird, some were ugly and some were pretty or funny. My mum was in seventh heaven through her visit, I don't think she'd imagined that so much china could be seen in one place. I've passed through other areas of the museum which I've never actually stopped to look at... Sculpture, the Far East, Medieval art - which is one that I think warrants a closer look on a future visit. I've also been to the contemporary Europe galleries, and last year we visited Performance, which was something for my dad after all the jewellery and silverware we had been looking at. Performance is an interesting look at the history of performance, including circus, theatre, opera and rock and pop music. There is memorabilia from through the years, and plenty of costumes on display. The museum shops are well worth a look. The main shop is located just inside the entrance and the bookshop is further in, also on the ground floor. There are a lot of items for sale inspired by the museum's collections, and of course lots of books so you can learn more about what you have been looking at. There are two cafes in the museum, one in the lovely central garden - well, lovely on a sunny day! There's a pretty pond which kids are allowed to play in, you can sit at a table or on the grass and have a drink and something to eat. There is also one inside which offers more choice than the garden cafe, in terms of hot meals and snacks. I've visited both, and I think the prices are a little high and the food is sometimes a bit more fancy than you might want. You can't just get a cheese sandwich here - it's mozzarella and pesto on ciabatta. Sandwiches average around £4-5. There is also a good selection of cakes and drinks. The V&A is fully wheelchair accessible, although sometimes you have a long walk to get to a lift. The way the floors are laid out (not every floor is fully in use), most lifts don't go to every floor but only to a few (for example, 1, 3, 4, and 6). This can be irritating when you are on one side of this large museum and the lifts you need are miles away! I'd fully recommend a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum. It's a really interesting place to visit, and there are so many things to see that you will be spoilt for choice. It's location is easy to get to, and with its proximity to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, you could have a day out where everyone in the family gets to visit somewhere they are interested in!
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