diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 21, 2013

I don't think most visitors to the V&A ever find the 6th floor. It took me several years to get there, having missed the staircases up from Contemporary Glass and Victoriana on the 4th. Now the top floor Ceramics galleries are one of my favourite places in the entire museum, not least because they're generally devoid of visitors. Glazed goodies from around the world, and from Bow, are lined up in room after room of glass cases, including one stunning domed space where you can peer down to the main entrance below. But now there's a new reason to visit floor 6, has been since November in fact, which is a room full of Furniture. Allegedly it's three galleries, although they all run together to create one long space beneath the skylights. And it's very well done. A series of two dozen pieces run down the centre, visible from either side (which isn't always how furniture is meant to work). Some are medieval, others from the last two decades, because the entire story is being told here, and the mix works well. Along each wall are a series of bays, each devoted to a different style, type, designer or construction method. Again there's a mix, so lovers of Orkney wickerwork, classic upholstery and plastic stacking chairs will find something for them. One unusual novelty, for the V&A at least, is the emphasis on materials and construction, rather than beauty and chronology. But perhaps the most innovative thing here is the way you learn about each item on display. There are no labels alongside or in front, instead everything is explained on an electronic touchscreen angled in front. Press the image which matches the piece of furniture in front of you and up come its details, not at great length, but sufficiently in-depth and informative. Swipe across to explore the rest of each furniture cluster, and perhaps some background to the designers too. This very modern form of presentation has one major downside which is that it's impossible to read the information about, say, a chair if someone else is already reading about a table. On the plus side, all the text and images can be enlarged to fill the screen if your eyesight's not what it was. I eventually got used to this form of electronic presentation, indeed I suspect it's the future, but I did feel the need to wash my fingertips afterwards. Whatever, the Furniture galleries are well worth seeking out, as is the whole of the V&A's upper sixth, even if you think you're only visiting for the Bowie. [full info here]

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