Left: The V&A Bookshop (opened in May 2009) stocks a wide range of publications relating to the V&A and its collections
'Much of the work in Digital
Pioneers is astonishingly
beautiful and seems both
brave and preScient.'
Alice Rawsthorn, New York Times
Collections are the starting point for all V&A research. Staff and scholars
research objects, their care and contexts, sharing their knowledge through
publications, exhibitions and permanent displays, as well as through
internal study groups, and Subject Specialist Networks and Research
Clusters that link UK-wide specialists. The V&A administers qualifications
that recognise the skills and knowledge of Museum staff, such as NVQs and
the Assistant Curator Development Programme. Research is widely accessible
to our audiences, in the galleries, on the website, in our public programme,
in books, articles, lectures and conferences, handling sessions and collaborative
projects. The V&A offers services such as monthly Opinions afternoons,
where the public can have their own objects identified
Publications about V&A collections
The V&A's commercial arm publishes a comprehensive range of academic
books intended both to disseminate knowledge and inspire creative
practitioners. In May 2009 a new V&A bookshop opened, designed as a
research resource as well as a store, increasing book sales by 120% since
2008/9. Stephen Jones Hats: An Anthology was named Best Limited Edition
at the British Book Design and Production Awards 2009.
A number of publications this year linked to the new Medieval &
Renaissance galleries. The flagship book, Medieval and Renaissance Art:
People and Possessions by Glyn Davies and Kirstin Kennedy expanded on the
scope of interpretation in the galleries to make connections across periods,
and placed V&A objects in their social, political and artistic contexts. A series
of related publications explored the period through specific themes: Death
and Art: Europe 1200-1530 by Eleanor Townsend; Fashion and Armour in
Renaissance Europe by Angus Patterson; Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500
by Marian Campbell; Italian Renaissance Frames at the V&A: A Technical
Study, by Christine Powell and Zoë Allen, and Renaissance Secrets: Recipes
and Formulas by Jo Wheeler with Katy Temple. Academic articles about the
project continue to be published internationally, featuring for example in
dedicated issues of the V&A's Conservation Journal (Autumn 2009), and
Renaissance Studies: Journal of the Society for Renaissance Studies (February
2010, to be republished as a book October 2010), and a series of articles
in The Burlington Magazine (including November and December 2009).
Related research in specific collections is continuing. Paul Williamson's
two-volume catalogue of Medieval ivory carvings is the distillation of 30
scholarship. The first volume, Early Christian to Romanesque,
will be published in August 2010. Working with conservators, scientists
and scholars, the structure and physical properties of the ivories, as well
as their functions and histories, have been reassessed. One example linked
to both the catalogue and the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, is a
collaborative research project with the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin,
for which a key V&A object formerly known as the Eltenberg Reliquary
(about 1180), was deconstructed and identified using new evidence. It is
now known to be a medieval tabernacle from Cologne.
Other major catalogues currently underway include Rowan Watson's
Catalogue of Western Illuminated Manuscripts in the National Art Library,
V&A, from the eleventh to the early twentieth century; Dutch and Flemish
Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, by Sir Christopher White
and Jane Turner; and French Furniture 1640-1800, by Carolyn Sargentson,
supported by Sotheby's.
The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries project demonstrates the range
of research at which the V&A excels. Curators and conservators examined objects
and documentary evidence to ensure objects were
presented in the most appropriate manner. For example, a corner of the
floor of maiolica tiles known as the Petrucci Pavement (about 1509), made
for the Sienese palace of Pandolfo Petrucci, was reconstructed for the
galleries and is displayed under glass just below floor level. Research
revealed that the tiles had originally been arranged in an Islamic star and
cross pattern with classical grotesques on individual tiles, reminding us of
the ongoing cultural interchange between Christian and Islamic countries
during the Renaissance.
Conservators and technicians worked together to develop new ways of
installing large, complex and fragile objects, while in-house mount makers
pioneered new techniques to produce state-of-the-art metal mounts.
Interactives like the 3-D digital reconstruction of the Church of Santa Chiara,
Florence (about 1494-1500), produced in collaboration with the University
of Sussex and funded by the Bonita Trust, are the result of extensive
An Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-
funded Knowledge Transfer Fund enabled the Royal College of Music and
the V&A to transcribe and record period music specific to V&A objects.
Below: Corner of a tile pavement from the Petrucci Palace in
Siena, made around 1509, conserved and reconfigured
for display in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.
Designs of the individual tiles were inspired by the
decoration of the recently excavated Golden House
of Nero in Rome while the pattern of the tiles' assembly
shows the influence of Islamic design.
Left: One of the music pieces produced for the galleries
involved research into this knife. It was made in about
1550 and features musical notations on both sides of its
blade: one for a blessing to be sung before the meal; the
other for a prayer of thanks to be sung after the meal.
It is part of a set of knives now spread across the world.
The music from these knives has been combined to create
polyphonic, or multi-voiced, songs. Recordings are
accessible on the website and in the galleries.
The V&A has a reputation for excellence in audience research and
development. The most significant evaluation this year was an in-depth
look at visitor profiles and responses to the Sackler Centre for arts education
which opened in 2008. MUSE, who carried out qualitative evaluation of
the impact of the Sackler Centre's intellectual agenda, concluded that the
Centre and its programme had achieved exceptionally positive responses
to both its programming and overall aims.
The V&A was one of the first museums to calculate and work to reduce its
carbon footprint. It is pioneering in developing green museum practices,
advocating natural ventilation and light in galleries, using sustainable
materials in exhibition design, improving facilities to recycle waste and
engaging staff to save energy. In June 2009 the V&A won a Gold Green 500
award in recognition of the work it has done to reduce its carbon footprint.
Growing new knowledge
This year the V&A's holdings of computer art and design (work made using
the computer as a tool or medium) have boomed.
The recent addition of two major collections (the Computer Arts Society Collection and the Patric
Prince Collection) and over 80 pieces new to the V&A in 2009/10 means
that there are now well over 450 pieces of computer-generated artwork at
The major exhibition of contemporary digital art and design Decode:
Digital Design Sensations in partnership with SAP was complemented by
a historical display Digital Pioneers (7 December 2009-21 April 2010), which
interpreted the work of the pioneering artists and scientists who produced
early computer-based art. The book Digital Pioneers by Honor Beddard and
Douglas Dodds was published to coincide with the display. There was also
a seminal conference and a themed 'SAP Weekend: Digital Design Festival'
attended by over 13,000 visitors and supported by SAP volunteers.
Linked to all of these outputs are research projects such as the AHRC-funded
contextualisation, cataloguing and digitisation of the collection
in partnership with Birkbeck College, University of London.
Right: Pen and ink machine drawing on paper, 'Untitled', 1964, by Desmond Paul Henry, given by Elaine O' Hanrahan, exhibited in
Below top: 'Digital Pioneers', the V&A's first exhibition of early
computer-based art in the Julie and Robert Breckman Prints and
Below bottom: The Sackler Centre, featuring the display 'Making
Glover' (4 December 2009-30 March 2010), charting the creative
journey that former Digital Media Resident at the V&A, Jo
Lawrence, took to make the animation 'Glover'.
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990
This forthcoming exhibition (24 September 2011-8 January 2012) will be the
outcome of intensive research into the diverse international style strategies
of the period, bringing together architecture, design, fashion, graphics, pop
music, film and video. Arguably the most contentious 'style' label of the last
century, Postmodernism as a practice in architecture and design emerged in
the early 1970s as a challenge to the orthodoxies of high Modernism.
Rejecting the sleek and serious forms which preached the rhetoric of
function, postmodern designers exploited a rich and eclectic range of
sources to create subversive statements about style and identity in a
globalised, speeded-up and consumer-driven society.
New research for this exhibition reveals the range and diversity of intent on
the part of those who became associated with Postmodernism. Working
with many of its major protagonists as well as its detractors, the curators,
partly funded by the RCA and University of Brighton, have uncovered many
new contexts for design. New acquisitions for the show range from '80s
designer fashion to unique ceramic pieces; from costume for avant-garde
performance to rare architectural works.
British Design 1948-2012
Timed to coincide with the 2012 Olympic Games when the world will turn
its attention to Britain, this exhibition (31 March-12 August 2012) will
document the transformation of design in Britain between the 'Austerity
Games' of 1948 and the global competition taking place in 2012. It will be
the first exhibition to examine the ways in which designers born, trained
or based in the UK have produced innovative and iconic works that have
transformed the lives and dreams of people across the world.
A major research focus is the history of collecting and exhibiting postwar
design at the V&A. A survey of the Museum's holdings has already brought
to light key objects from the furniture, textiles and product design
collections never previously displayed, including a large group of Design
Centre Award winners ranging from street lighting to stereos. New research
into individual designers and their networks has looked, for example, at
designers trained by the Architectural Association who moved into
furniture and interior design in the 1950s and '60s.
Left: Casablanca Sideboard, 1981, made by Ettore Sottsass for
Memphis and acquired, in part, with the assistance of Memphis.
The sideboard was inspired by the widespread use of plastic
laminates in commercial environments, and shows the use of
kitsch materials for high-end design. It is a key object in the
forthcoming Postmodernism exhibition.
Conferences and lectures
The Sackler Conference for arts education, From the Margins to the Core?
(24-26 March 2010) explored the shifting roles and increasing centrality of
diversity and equality in museum and heritage policy and practice today.
Jointly organised with the University of Leicester, it was the most significant
conference to date on the subject. It was informed by the V&A's recent £1
million HLF-funded Capacity Building and Cultural Ownership Programme
and the resulting 2009 evaluation, which looked at diversity and the V&A.
The conference was an important opportunity to draw on a richness of
perspectives and help the cultural sector to formulate a joint vision for the
future. The Sackler Conference for arts education is generously funded by
a grant from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.
Planned in collaboration with the Warburg Institute and RIBA, Plaster and
Plaster Casts (12-13 March 2010) examined artists' relationships to this
medium and its use both as inspiration and as part of the working process.
The theme has strong links to the V&A, which from its inception has created
a study collection of plaster casts and electrotypes to inform its visitors.
The AHRC-funded conference Decoding the Digital (4-5 February 2010) was
a moving and historic dialogue between the original pioneers of computergenerated
art and those working in the field today. It brought together
artists, designers, curators, collectors and theorists to explore this new
medium, and included seminal events such as an in-conversation between
practitioners Paul Brown and his son Daniel Brown.
Alongside conferences, a range of symposia, courses, talks, lectures, films and
in-conversations forms a vital part of the V&A's programme, disseminating
research and provoking debate. Short courses combine theory with practical
skills, for example 'Staying Power: Exploring Black British Identity through
Photography' (30 March-1 April 2010), HLF-funded, which combined research
at the V&A and Black Cultural Archives (BCA) with street photography
and new skills in Photoshop. Notable in-conversations this year included
an interview with fashion icon Barbara Hulanicki, and Tim Brown, Chief
Executive of IDEO (the global design consultancy based in California),
discussing IDEO's philosophy with design critic Alice Rawsthorn.
The V&A is celebrated for its commitment to learning. This year the Museum of
Childhood was awarded a Sandford Award, recognising quality and excellence
in the educational service and facilities at UK cultural heritage sites.
Right: Poster for the film 'Beyond Biba' which premiered
at the V&A, followed by an in-conversation with
|Right: View from the first floor of the Museum of Childhood,
showing the café and main entrance.
|Left: Busts of former Museum Director, Frances
Philip Cunliffe Owen (1829-1894), former Keeper of Museum
Art Collection, George Wallis (1811-1891), and former Prime
Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), look over
readers consulting the general and special collections in
the National Art Library.
Research networks: PhDs, exchanges and collaborations
The V&A uses its international networks to develop and spread knowledge,
and strengthen its reputation as a centre of academic excellence. 2009
marked the 20th anniversary of the University of Sussex/V&A exchange
programme: curators teach at Sussex, and Sussex-based academic staff
contribute to V&A projects for a year. The V&A also has longstanding
international annual exchanges with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
New York and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, and is constantly
participating in new exchanges. PhDs completed this year and funded by
the AHRC's Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme include Sarah Bercusson
(Queen Mary, University of London/V&A) 'Gifts, consumption and ritual
exchange in Italy in the second half of the 16th century' and Verity Clarkson
(University of Brighton/V&A) 'The Cold War "émigré" exhibit in Britain:
Cultural Exchange, Diplomacy and Trade c.1945-75'.
Collections-based research includes a major project at the Museum of
Childhood funded by the HLF, the Fidelity UK Foundation and the Esmée
Fairbairn Foundation. Over the next three years curators will be researching
and mapping out the British toy-making industry
and its contexts in the
20th Century. They will catalogue, conserve and digitise the archives of toy
manufacturers in the collection, and interview people associated with toy
manufacturing past and present. Another example is the five-year AHRC-funded
partnership with the University of Reading, 'Giving a Voice to the
Nation: the Arts Council of Great Britain & the Development of Theatre &
Performance in Britain 1945-1995.'
V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design
The V&A's Research Department and the School of Humanities at the
Royal College of Art jointly run the V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design -
a two-year full-time Master's degree programme. The course introduces
students to the skills of object-based analysis and the context of design
practice. The MA degree has three specialisms: Design and Material Culture
1650 to the Present; Renaissance Decorative Arts and Culture 1400-1650;
and Asian Design History 1400 to the Present. This year has seen
unprecedented student numbers.
Right: In the heart of the Museum the National Art Library
welcomes scholars, collectors and the general public to
consult its modern and historic collections.
'The idea that providing Britain's
skilled industrial workers with
design models would improve
the quality of their products
led to what eventually became
the UK's National Art Library,
based at the V&A. The library,
which now holds a million
items, is run by the museum's
Word and Image department.'
Corinna Lotz, Museums Journal
Research facilities at the V&A provided access to our national collections
to 43,135 visitors in 2009/10. These include the National Art Library, a public
reference library focusing on global art and design history, the Prints and
drawings Study Rooms and RIBA Study Rooms, the Learning and Interpretation
Research Library and, at our London Olympia site, the Archive of Art and
Design and the Theatre and Performance study collections.
The V&A was ranked first in the UK and third worldwide in a Times listing of
Museum websites. V&A collections and activities online received over 20.6
million virtual visits from across the world. The website is currently being
redesigned to maintain its reputation as a leader in the field. A major aspect
of the redesign is establishing user profiles which will record all visitors'
interactions with the website, from high resolution downloads to comments
on blogs and the development of community pages. There are also plans
to use the semantic web.
Over one million objects are available through the new version of the
Museum's collections database
'the website of the victoria
and albert museum in london
is one of britain's finest,
overflowing with film and
audio clips, plus page after page
of information about the
treasures in its collection.'
Mike Peake, The Sunday Times
'Search the Collections' launched in 2009.
Researchers now have unprecedented access to all of the Museum's object
records and site visits have tripled since the launch. A new mobile application was developed too,
enabling visitors to search the V&A's
collections database from their phones.
2009 marked the end of the three-year government-funded National
Museums Online Learning Project, mainly used by schools and the
educational sector. This significant partnership project led by the V&A
pooled expertise and resources to improve museum websites, engage
new audiences and transform the way visitors think about and use existing
Research and engagement with the V&A has been facilitated by improved
visibility on Google, as well as links via sites such as Twitter, Facebook and
Flickr. The V&A leads the museum field in encouraging user-generated
content. The World Beach Project is the only international museum project
to have had contributions from every continent including Antarctica.
Devised by former V&A artist in residence Sue Lawty, it invites people
to upload their images of drawings made with stones on beaches.
The V&A website hosts two vibrant records of V&A research and knowledge:
the V&A Conservation Journal and the V&A Online Journal, a combination
of V&A and external research and scholarship on the V&A's history,
collections and public programme.
Right: Visual showing how the redesigned website may appear.
Visitors will be able to search under key terms and the site
will pull together all relevant material.