The BBC called it ‘world class’; The Guardian ‘a delight’, doing ‘it’s job of announcing Dundee’s ambition to the world.’
The Victoria and Albert Museum of Dundee opened its doors just over a month ago to a surge of visitors and, subsequently, a surge of praise. The eighty-million-pound architectural venture is the first offspring of London Kensington’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and is Scotland’s only museum dedicated entirely to design.
The building itself is an innovative constructive feat commissioned by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose inspiration for the concrete superstructure came from the cliffs of north-eastern Scotland.
The overall impression is certainly a detour from that of its one hundred and sixty-year-old Victorian counterpart in London. ‘I’ve always thought it was a very ugly building from the outside’ says biology student Emilie, ‘…(but) I was impressed when I got up close and saw how huge it was and how it wasn’t actually that ugly.’
Inside, the museum is divided in to two levels. The downstairs level is entirely open plan while the upstairs includes the two main gallery spaces and two terraces overlooking the River Tay. The interior architecture is as unique as that of the exterior – yet not always to the favour of its visitors. The Guardian described the interior as ‘confusing – it’s oddly distributed space is not actually congenial to the uses advertised.’ For Emilie, however, the ‘odd’ layout is just part of the museum’s charm. She recounts, ‘we were there mainly to see the building…we spent time in the main hall and on the terraces, and got a cup of tea from the café downstairs and sat looking out the window.’
The first of the galleries is for temporary installments. It is currently occupied by ‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’: an exhibition which slots in nicely with the RRS Discovery sitting just beside the museum, at Dundee’s Discovery Point. ‘Ocean Liners’ exhibits the history and engineering of these ships through posters, ship and engine models, interiors and more.
For Angela, President of the University of St Andrews’ Art History Society, the museum’s inaugural exhibit exceeds expectations. ‘It doesn’t sound like a super interesting subject at first, but I learned a lot, (and) some of the pieces they were showing were incredible’ she said.
The Scottish Design Galleries in the adjacent space act as a permanent tribute to Scotland’s rich history of design. According to assistant curator Meredith More, twelve thousand Scottish objects of interest have been identified by a V&A research team, from which the current displays have been devised. Of interest to Angela were the fashion pieces, including a dress on display by designer Alexander McQueen. ‘It was fascinating to see how Scottish designers have influenced the world of fashion’ she says of the exhibit. For Emilie, however, the albeit impressive Scottish Design Galleries were missing some fundamental contributors. She noted there was no ‘Harris Tweed’ or ‘Crail pottery’ to ‘showcase Scotland’s creativity.’
Museum Director Philip Long perceives the V&A, perching proudly on the riverbank of the Tay, to be a beacon of Dundee’s extensive ‘creative background’. But will the museum be successful in establishing Dundee as a cultural hub of Scotland?
The crowds that have inundated the V&A since its opening certainly reflect a widespread interest in design within the greater Dundee area, and indeed within Scotland. ‘It’s really amazing to see how excited people are to engage with art and design’, says Angela, ‘particularly when it pertains to their own country.’
She was drawn to visiting the museum a second time, and even has a third trip planned as part of an excursion organized by the Art History Society.
With visitors coming back for more, Emilie is hopeful that the V&A will continue to attract larger crowds to Dundee in the future, ‘and already is doing so’ she adds. ‘I think many people don’t exactly view Dundee as the pinnacle of culture, which the presence of the V&A may change.’ Further, with the BBC describing the museum as a ‘showcase of design at its best’, the future of Dundee’s cultural scene is looking bright.