Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Faces in the crowded V & A

We had a wonderful lazy morning trying to sleep off the jet lag before heading out to see Laura and Peter's new flat in Little Venice, which is the area of London with canals. (who knew? canals in London!) It was a very cute area, with houseboats lining the canals and cafes on most of the corners. The apartment has a garden in the back, with a gap in the hedges that leads onto a massive park that is hidden from view of the streets and only accessible through the apartments that line it. Amazing little niches in this city.

Afterward, we headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V & A), which is one of those stunningly massive, twisting museums one can get lost in quite easily and happily. The museum seems to focus on melding the antiquated with the modern (which seems to me to be a London thing) and the melting is quite beautiful. The picture opposite is in the lobby where a 40-foot twisting glass sculpture hangs over the information desk, in front of a large ornate wooden panel you can see in the background. The mix of old and new happens in the juxtaposition of the artwork as well as in the architecture of the building, which is a mash up of a number of styles. As we headed towards the costumes exhibit, (a favorite of Sarah's) we walked by this amazing room with absolutely massive Greek carved columns. It was difficult to capture the scale but as you can see from the picture, Sarah and I were on the balcony and it extended from the ground floor to well above our heads. Off the other side of the balcony we could see into the restoration room, which was quite fascinating as well.

When we finally arrived in the costume exhibit, a number of the pieces were not on display, but the remaining ones were quite stunning. The one on the left is a funny one - Elton John's bicycle outfit, complete with a bell, reflectors, and streamers. Impressive. I do not think I could pull that outfit off, but then again it was the 60s, maybe that was just what everyone was wearing then.
I enjoyed how the museum had a larger concept of what art is, including both pieces of grand artistic scale, like some of the complex costumes from Shakespearean plays to ones worn by famous performing artists of different time periods. They also had some amazing little pieces of history, like this account book from the first run of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in 1892. Apparently the show was a wild success until Wilde was arrested for gross indecency. The show went on though, as the theatre manager just removed his name from the billing and continued to sell tickets.

One last note on museums - it's been quite a while since I have gone to a large museum and it was nice to be reminded that part of the experience is not just looking at the art on the walls but also at the people who are looking at the art on the walls. The collection of people at the V & A was fascinating, a statuesque 20-something blonde who appeared to have just stepped out of the fifties decked out in high heels, makeup and a fancy black dress, the endless families doing the museum scavenger hunts (amazing new development for kids), and everyone in between. Watching the faces in the crowd is one of the most unique parts of traveling, and a museum is an amazing place for people-watching.


  1. Pardon the repost, folks - I made a couple of edits to names/places. Sorry, Steve - I can't shake the proofreader in me. Love, Sarah

  2. Just in case you hadn't appreciated it, all those columns etc. are plaster casts made by the Victorians... crazy! That's probably my favourite room in any London museum.

  3. Hey Rachel!

    Thanks for the extra bit of info on those columns, we didn't have time to explore that room in full, but it was stunning just from the brief look we got. Amazing museum.