Home Arts The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ambitious east London warehouse is finally complete

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ambitious east London warehouse is finally complete

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The new open-access storage building at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in east London has just been completed and houses over 250,000 objects. In a few days, the process of transferring the collection will begin in what a museum spokesperson describes as “the UK’s biggest move”.

The V&A East Storehouse is slated to open in spring 2025, alongside the neighboring V&A East Museum. Together, the twin projects at the former 2012 Olympic site will represent the biggest UK museum development program for decades. Total costs will exceed those of the British Museum’s £100 million project in 2000.

Internal rendering view of the V&A East Storehouse, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro © Diller Scofidio + Renfro, 2018

The arts journal just received an exclusive tour of the V&A Storehouse by the museum’s deputy director, Tim Reeve, who oversees the project. Located next to the River Lea, the interior of the former Olympic media center has been gutted, creating a cavernous central hall and four huge floors of storage shelving and shelving systems. It is designed by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

The central hall and its surrounding passageways will be the main public route, from where several thousand objects will be visible on metal shelves. Reeve points out that nearly all museums that allow public access to their stores do so behind glass or on guided tours, but the V&A is taking the unusual step of allowing visitors to get closer to the collection – an open interior with objects and people sharing the same controlled environment spaces.

He describes the idea as “a spectacular, self-guided visitor experience that transforms access, maximizes transparency and removes barriers to the creative richness of the world’s most important collection of art, design and performance.”

In addition to over 100 changing exhibits (most of them quite small), there will be five spectacular objects on permanent display that will be incorporated into the structure of the new interior. They are: the Torrijos ceiling of Altamira Palace in Spain (c. 1490), the Agra colonnade of India (1637), a Frankfurt kitchen by the Austrian designer Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1926), the Kauffman desk by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1937) and a section of the exterior facade of the demolished Robin Hood Gardens council estate in Poplar, east London (1972). These objects are too large to be easily displayed in the V&A’s main South Kensington museum.

by Antonio Canova Sleeping Nymph (1820-1824) Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Other exhibits in the V&A East Storehouse will include Antonio Canova’s sultry marble sculpture sleeping nymph, completed in 1824 by his workshop, two years after his death. Stored objects will also be available for detailed research in study rooms, such as the Clothiers Center for Textiles and Fashion.

The V&A East Storehouse was originally scheduled to open this year, but the a two-year delay is partly due to Covid-19 and the recent acquisition of the extensive archives and collection of musician David Bowie. This was acquired in February with £10million from the Blavatnik Family Foundation (set up by Ukrainian-born Leonard Blavatnik, now with dual US-British citizenship) and Warner Music Group.

From 2025, Reeve expects 250,000 visitors a year to the V&A East Storehouse and 1 million to the V&A East Museum, a ten-minute walk away. Edited by Gus Casely-Hayfordboth sites emphasize attracting a younger and more diverse audience than at the more traditional museum in South Kensington.

For the V&A Storehouse, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has awarded a £50million grant to fund the relocation of its existing store to Blythe House in the west of London, which is now sold by the government. .

The £50m will cover most of the cost of building the V&A East Storehouse and moving the collection, although a museum spokesperson said that “some additional money will come from the museum’s own fundraising. V&A fund”. The building is owned by the Delancey Group and is leased to the V&A on a long-term commercial basis.

DCMS has also undertaken to increase the V&A’s annual grant by £9 million per year, to help meet the additional running costs of the V&A East Storehouse and V&A East Museum.

Meanwhile, the British Museum is about to complete its own new storage facility, to replace its existing space at Blythe House. Currently under construction in Shinfield, Berkshire, it will be known as BM_Ark (British Museum Archaeological Research Collection). At an estimated cost of £64m, it was originally due to be completed this year but has been delayed and could open next year or in 2025.

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