The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Cromwell Road entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum. © Violet Acevedo
The Cromwell Road entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum. © Violet Acevedo

Every class in the abroad program is required to take at least two field trips. For my British television class, I went to the BBC (as I detailed before). For my  British journalism and culture class, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Established in the 1850s, it was meant to be a source of education and inspiration for the masses, showcasing the best designs from around the world and across the centuries. 150+ years later, the museum is still fulfilling this purpose. The curating and design is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Time and space are mixed in interesting ways. The galleries are maze-like. I was constantly being surprised.

Because I visited the V&A for class, I had to do a write-up of the place. The prompt was to give a general account of the museum and one feature that we found most noteworthy. To reduce redundancies, here’s an abridged version of my write-up:

“Nothing stands near it. On the opposite side of Cromwell Road, stores and apartments huddle together and stare with their flat-faces down at the shoppers. But this building is alone. Quiet and regal, it stand back from the street and towers over the people on its steps with well-meaning grandeur. Made up of brick and white stone, the Victoria and Albert Museum is not as imposing as the other Victorian buildings found in South Kensington. But once you step inside, you know it’s not just another Victorian relic.

“Time and space is fluid here. Decades of expansions and renovations have created a maze of galleries that span centuries and continents. A contemporary exhibit to the left. Medieval statues to the right. Things seem to shift and change almost at will…

Narcissus and
Narcissus and “The Tower of Babel.” © Violet Acevedo

“There’s a new installation not far from the lobby called The Tower of Babel. Made up of hundreds of ceramic recreations of London stores, The Tower soars high above level 2’s balconies. The museum has even provided binoculars to see to the top. According to the artist, it’s supposed to be a commentary on modern consumerism, our  apparent religious-like tendency to shop and spend. To add to the meaning, each ceramic store is for sale. Dozens of them have already sold. This monument to London’s modern economy stands amongst the smooth faces of medieval and renaissance statues. Narcissus, Jason, and Samson watch the people crowding around The Tower with blank eyes. Only the art students seem to pay the ancient statues any attention.

“Near The Tower are the Asian galleries. They reach farther back in time, thousands and thousands of years. Turkish rugs cover whole walls. Teapots huddle in small glass cases. In a Chinese gallery, a chair sits in the middle of the room. Elegant and simple, mimicking styles that have been around longer than the building it sits in. Hanging behind it is a painting from the 2014. Made of textured oils, the colors blend into a chaotic beauty.

“Time and space are more stable on the upper levels, but there are still surprises. On level 3 is a long series of galleries showcasing ironwork from across the centuries: Intricate gates and elaborate locks from the middle ages to the 1920s to the present day. Down at the end of the galleries are panes of colored Plexiglas. They run along a short corridor, standing out amongst the white walls and floor. Irregular holes are cut into them so that visitors can walk through to the other side. It leads to a gallery not yet opened to the public.

“You can get lost in that maze of galleries. The map doesn’t accurately portray the expanses within these Victorian walls…”

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