A Glimpse of the V&A

(Originally published on ACCENTblogs April 5, 2016)

I am a huge fan of museums. When I was growing up in Chicago, my parents took my brother and me to a museum almost every week. We would spend the entire day looking at the exhibits and absorbing as much information as possible. Fast-forward a decade and I still enjoy spending hours ambling around museums, taking in everything they have to offer.

When I was researching London before my arrival, I was delighted to learn that a considerable number of the city’s many museums are free to visit. I made an early vow to visit all of them but I had no idea that London is home to more than 200 museums, most of which actually require an entry fee. My goal has since been modified: I just want to visit as many museums as possible before I fly back to the United States. As of right now, I’m doing terribly. After living in London for seven weeks, I’ve only been to two museums: the Tate Modern and the British Museum (for a very brief visit). To step up my museum game, I’ve decided to try and visit a new one each week.

This week I hopped on the Tube and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is the world’s oldest museum of decorative art and design, home to a collection of over 4.5 million objects. There are two huge rooms filled to the brim with ceramic items from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and a rotunda of mannequins documenting the evolution of four centuries of British fashion. You can travel back to the Renaissance by standing on a balcony that juts out into a brightly lit room of incredibly old statues and fountains. One of the coolest rooms, in my humble opinion, has nothing but segments of old gates and a crazy number of locks. More locks than I had time to count, but each as interesting as the one previous.

I was in the V&A for approximately two hours and I visited five rooms: Ironwork, the Cast Courts, Medieval & Renaissance, the Asia section, Fashion, and of course, the gift shop. My favorite was the Cast Courts, although half of it was walled off for restoration. The room was filled with plaster casts of entryways, pillars, balconies, and exterior decorations. For a little while, I could pretend that time travel was real and I was thrown back in time to when the world was a different place. Everything was rendered in remarkable detail and all I wanted to do was run my hand across the etchings. (Note: Despite the temptation, I did not, in fact, touch anything in the museum.)

There were people everywhere sketching the wares of the V&A. Some were art students, decked out with huge sketchpads and easels. A couple of people were drawing in smaller notebooks, and some children had sheets of printer paper that they carried with them as they walked around the collection rooms. If I were a mildly talented artist, I too would have copied down the things that I saw, but I’ll just have to hope that I can remember what I didn’t photograph. Or I might just have to make a return visit to see the rest of the enormous Victoria and Albert Collection!