Exhibitions & Events

V&A exhibitions and events 
bring V&A collections, 
research and resources 
to people across the 
world. They generate 
new research, encourage 
creativity and new 
perspectives, and increase 
people's access to, 
and enjoyment of, 
art and design. 
'The calibre of work and the wealth of intriguing ideas on which these quilts shed light is both impressive and exciting.'
Sara O'Reilly, Time Out
  Right: Patchwork bed hangings (1730-50) incorporating British and Indian Cottons at the entrance to Quilts: 1700-2010.

Below: A section of the exhibition Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill, showing some of Walpole's many portraits emphasising his lineage, living relatives and friends.

Quilts: 1700-2010

Over 300 years of British patchwork and quilting were exhibited for the first time in Quilts: 1700-2010 (20 March-4 July 2010) supported by the Friends of the V&A, with further support from Coats Crafts and the Coats Foundation Trust. The V&A collection, key loans and new commissions unravelled some of the complex personal narratives and broader historical events surrounding quilt production and use. The innovative exhibition design incorporated beds in order to display quilts as they were originally intended to be seen.

The project facilitated research on the V&A's existing collection and pieces acquired specifically for the show. Following archival research on a donated quilted patchwork cot cover (1690-1720), for example, curators were able to name the maker as Priscilla Redding and discover her diary, now held in a private collection
in Australia.

The Rajah Quilt (1841), made onboard HMS Rajah by women being transported to Van Diemen's Land, is the only known transportation quilt in a public collection. This is the first time the National Gallery of Australia has lent it to a British venue. The quilt was juxtaposed with the HMP Wandsworth Quilt, created in collaboration with Fine

Cell Work, a charity that teaches needlework skills to inmates in around 30 prisons in the UK. The quilt has been designed and stitched by the all-male quilting group at HMP Wandsworth to offer a reflection on contemporary prison life. Its purchase was funded by the Friends of the V&A.

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

At Strawberry Hill, a villa in the form of 'a little gothic castle' on the banks of the Thames, built by the English 18th-century collector Horace Walpole, visitors once flocked to see Walpole's eclectic collections surveying British history and European art. This major exhibition (6 March-4 July 2010) was the culmination of a seven-year collaboration between the V&A, the Lewis Walpole Library and the Yale Center for British Art, with research funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It recreated Walpole's collection in the context of his 'castle'. Ongoing academic and architectural research informed the exhibition. Discoveries resulting from the current restoration of Strawberry Hill house, by Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects, helped to shape the exhibition and the accompanying book. Newly discovered documents changed the understanding of the subject,

including Walpole's account of 1772 describing the aesthetic effects he strived to achieve at Strawberry Hill; a mood journey through 'light, dark and harmony'.

The exhibition team initiated a database of Walpole's collection, now held in museums and private collections across the world. This is accessible on the Lewis Walpole Library website, and provides a useful legacy of the show.

A section of the exhibition Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill
Patchwork bed hangings (1730-50) incorporating British and Indian Cottons at the entrance to Quilts: 1700-2010
'The historical sweep of this fine exhibition is brilliantly conveyed, a complicated story is efficiently outlined - and some magical art is displayed en route.' Judith Flanders, The Sunday Telegraph

Maharaja: the Splendour of India's Royal Courts

The first exhibition of its kind, Maharaja: the Splendour of India's Royal Courts (10 October 2009-17 January 2010) explored ideas of kingship in India and the changing role of the maharajas in a historical and social context. The exhibition, sponsored by Ernst & Young, brought together a rich array of objects including paintings, 'a spectacle of shimmering gold textiles, enormous jewels… and a rainbow of vivid colours' (David Hayes, Financial Times) and even a Rolls Royce. The works were drawn from the V&A's superlative collections and from private individuals and public institutions in Europe, North America and Qatar. Working closely with the Government of India and the Indian High Commission in the UK, the curators also secured the loan of over 50 objects from six royal collections in India, enabling them to include pieces that in most cases had never left the palaces for which they were created.

Many exciting discoveries were made during the research process. A previously unknown letter in the British Library's collections, for example, was identified as having been written by Indian heroine Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi. In this history-making document of 1853 Lakshmibai asks the Governor-General to

recognise her adopted son as the new Raja. The request was refused and the Rani subsequently led her army in the siege of Jhansi by East India troops - an action that made her a national legend.

The design of the exhibition and the way in which objects were displayed was important, particularly in the section that detailed lawajama, a king's regalia and insignia. Instead of showcasing lawajama as individual pieces in separate cases, the curators worked with designers Urban Salon Architects to create a procession with a life size model elephant and horse around which the lawajama were displayed in an arrangement underpinned by extensive curatorial research.

Right: A model elephant displaying a king's regalia and insignia in Maharaja: the Splendour of India's Royal Courts

A model elephant displaying a king's regalia and insignia in Maharaja: the Splendour of India's Royal Courts 'Dandelion', 2009, by YOKE and Sennep. 'Venetian Mirror', 2009, by Fabrica. 'Body Paint', 2009, by Mehmet Akten
Left from left to right: 'Dandelion', 2009, by YOKE and Sennep

'Venetian Mirror', 2009, by Fabrica

'Body Paint', 2009, by Mehmet Akten

All exhibited in the 'Interactivity' section of Decode: Digital
Design Sensations. Each exhibit responded to the movement
or presence of visitors and translated it back into the work.
    'A drift through the hologram
deck of this fairytale exhibit is
my idea of good sex.' Ken Russell, The Times, on Telling Tales:
Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design

Decode: Digital Design Sensations

Digital and interactive design is a growing aspect of the V&A's contemporary programme. This major exhibition (8 December 2009-11 April 2010), in partnership with business software provider SAP, outlined digital practices and showcased 'dazzling examples of data visualization' (Alice Rawsthorn, International Herald Tribune). Co-curated with contemporary arts organisation onedotzero it attracted over 94,000 visitors. The exhibition covered three themes concerning contemporary practitioners: the use of computer code, interactivity and the influence of the viewer, and the impact of today's communication networks. The exhibition capitalised on the fact that digital design is a collaborative field bringing together leading international artists, designers, programmers, coders, architects, and curators.

The V&A commissioned Karsten Schmidt to create a digital moving-image identity for the exhibition using open source code. The work was used as part of an innovative marketing campaign which invited the on-line community to recode Karsten's identity and create their own unique work. Selected works then featured on the microsite, and were shown on the London Underground as part of a partnership with

CBS Outdoor, the largest media partnership the Museum has secured.

New commissions for the exhibition included 'bit.code' by Julius Popp, funded by the V&A and SAP. This work consists of a large bank of spinning black and white moving energy chains representing the 1s and 0s of binary code. At certain times they align to display the most popular words taken from recent web feeds.

The V&A has a continuing commitment to digital programming. 2011 will see a year-long programme of digital initiatives by the V&A's Contemporary Team, who will team up artists, designers, technology providers and academic institutions to explore the ways in which innovative new technologies can transform visitors understanding and appreciation of the Museum and its collections, both online and offline.

Telling Tales: Fantasy & Fear in Contemporary Design

Over 165,000 visitors saw this exhibition (14 July-18 October 2009) curated by Gareth Williams, Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), that showcased high-end contemporary design inspired by storytelling. European Designers working in furniture, lighting and ceramics are crossing boundaries between art and

design. They are using their work to explore fear and fantasy through the materials they use, decorative devices or historical references. The exhibition was accompanied by a programme of events including a study day on fairytales, a symposium 'Furniture Futures' sponsored by John Makepeace Furniture and
The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, and courses on creative writing, digital lampshade design and collecting the contemporary.

A Higher Ambition: Owen Jones (1809-74)

Owen Jones wrote one of the most important design sourcebooks ever produced: The Grammar of Ornament. He helped to shape Victorian design, with studies for Islamic decoration at the Alhambra Palace and plans for the 1851 Great Exhibition building. The V&A holds the world's most comprehensive collection of Owen Jones material. This exhibition (28 March-22 November 2009, and then touring Europe and the Middle East) is the first monographic display to look at Owen Jones's contribution to architecture, design and colour theory.

Sit Down: Seating for Kids

Featuring over 75 examples spanning 400 years, this exhibition at the Museum of Childhood (6 February-5

September 2010) addressed the form and function of children's seats. The subject underpins the founding purpose of the V&A - to show excellent examples of applied art and design. The exhibition involved new research into the V&A's existing collections and fed into the work of furniture manufacturer Ercol. The curatorial team worked very closely with Ercol, who set a brief for a child's school seat for students at New Buckinghamshire University. The exhibition incorporated the brief, design concept and development of three designs. The resulting stools were on display and visitors were asked to test and provide feedback to inform the stools' future commercial production.

Future Fashion Now: New Design from the Royal College of Art

This exhibition developed in collaboration with the RCA (22 May 2009-31 January 2010) detailed the intricate processes involved in designing clothes. It featured the sketchbooks, design boards, photographs, prototypes and over 55 finished pieces from recent RCA MA graduates' collections. Selected pieces were then displayed at an evening reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the British Clothing Industry. The show demonstrates the V&A's engagement with the creative industries and championship of emerging artists and designers.


V&A Illustration Awards

Every year the V&A recognises and celebrates the best quality illustration in books, newspapers, magazines and comics by running the Illustration Awards, sponsored by the Enid Linder Foundation. Judged by renowned artists and cultural figures, they continue to be the most valuable financial UK award a professional illustrator can win. The overall winner in 2009 out of 650 entries was Tom Burns for his illustrations to
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (London, The Folio Society, 2008).

Fashion in Motion

Fashion in Motion brings catwalk couture to the atmospheric setting of the V&A's Raphael Gallery. The V&A works with world-class designers to showcase their work to visitors. These catwalk shows complement fashion displayed in the Museum's galleries, giving visitors, from students to fashion journalists, a rare chance to see high fashion being worn. This year's events included an overview of Giles Deacon's collections which combine careful tailoring with pop culture, and the London-based ready to wear label by Erdem Moralioglu. Participating designers stress the importance and influence of the V&A's collections and regularly make research trips to the Museum.

Friday Lates

The V&A is open every Friday evening until 10pm. The last Friday of the month is Friday Late - a vibrant night of themed events focusing on contemporary art and design, bringing V&A programmes to new and young audiences. The V&A works with established and emerging artists and designers to propagate contemporary interventions and installations as well as performance art and music, talks and debates. The June Friday Late celebrated the last in a successful 10-year series of annual Village Fetes, 'the jewel in the crown of the V&A's events calendar' (Sara O'Reilly, Time Out), where the garden is taken over by artistic stalls inviting visitors to partake in crazy contests. Over 5,000 visitors marked the opening of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries with the Renaissance Ball, featuring music inspired by the galleries and a specially commissioned site-specific dance piece.

First Thursdays

The Museum of Childhood takes part in the 'First Thursdays' initiative in East London, opening late with special events aimed at adult audiences on the first Thursday of every month. This year these included fairytale-themed workshops led by the East London Printmakers and workshops teaching decoupage techniques on recycled household objects.


The V&A's flagship programme of workshops and projects for secondary schools, DesignLab, gained momentum this year. Through partnerships with schools and designers, the programme is researching and developing innovative new approaches to teaching and learning in design using the V&A's collections. To complement this, the V&A runs the Create! programme of workshops and courses, supported by the Wates Foundation. This is aimed specifically at young people, including a youth forum, free events and digital projects run in the Museum's wellequipped Sackler Centre studios. The V&A is also leading a local initiative Creative Quarter, which offers a programme of talks, workshops and drop-in activities about different creative industries related to the V&A collections. Over 3,000 secondary school students attended the event in November 2009.

Right from top to bottom: Friday Late: Renaissance Ball, January 2010

Catwalk image from the V&A's Fashion in Motion:
Giles, July 2009 showing a full-length dress and hat from the Giles
Autumn/Winter 2009 collection. This was one of 60 looks that
formed the show by internationally acclaimed London designer
Giles Deacon.

'London's Victoria and Albert Museum, which offers six-month residencies, pushes interaction with the public a step further. The museum focuses heavily on creating workshops for visitors and aims to furnish its residents with teaching skills that they can use to support themselves later in life.' Laura Snoad, Design Week

The residency programme

Residencies for designers, makers and artists have an increasing presence at the V&A with studios in the Sackler Centre and Ceramics Galleries. The residencies play an important role in engaging our visitors, teaching them about the creative process and inspiring them to use V&A collections in new ways. All Museum residents lead learning programmes and have access to the Museum collections for research. The Sackler Residency Programme is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The Crafts Council, HSBC and RIBA + V&A Partnership have supported individual residencies.

Highlights include the Museum's first international resident, HSBC Designer in Residence, Lao Jianhua, who engaged with over 3,300 visitors and developed a number of products which he hopes to manufacture. Other residents include contemporary basket maker Mary Butcher and comics artist Karen Rubins. In the Ceramics Studio, Independent Practice Resident Professor Stephen Dixon invited the public to bring ceramic shards to the Museum and make a life-size mosaic bust of Queen Victoria as part of 'Ceramica', the weekend of events celebrating the opening of the new Ceramics Galleries. While at the V&A Dixon was

influenced by the skeumorphs (vessels made in one material intended to evoke vessels usually made in another) in the Asian ceramics collection and he made his own with the use of specialised clays. His output continues at the Museum, as a blog, archive of work and an ongoing art project.

London Design Festival

The buzz of the contemporary design world reached every corner of the Museum during the annual London Design Festival (19-27 September 2009) which celebrates and promotes London as the Design Capital of the world. As the Festival Hub the V&A was the first point of call for visitors to the festival and housed an array of site-specific exhibitions, talks, workshops and activities, as well as star-studded evening events. The Sackler Centre provided a platform for the Design Embassy where international design and business delegates mingled and conducted business meetings. Following its success in 2008, the V&A is looking forward to another exciting and ambitious Festival residency in 2010.

'Light Blub', 2008, by Pieke Bergmans