Light Sgraffito

Ron Arad, Zandra Rhodes, Jonathan Barnbrook, Greenaway & Greenaway, Toru Ishii and Leyla Reynolds have been commissioned to transform the newly unveiled historic façades of the V&A's Henry Cole Wing and Aston Webb buildings on Exhibition Road, as part of an evening illumination cycle titled 'Light Sgraffito'.

The opening of the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter has enabled public interaction with the previously hidden façades of Aston Webb's original buildings, and the earlier Henry Cole Wing, including its sgraffito decoration that has not been visible to the public since its completion in 1873. Sgraffito, from the same Italian word that gave us graffiti, is a form of decoration that was used during the Renaissance; it was made by 'scratching' a design into multi-coloured layers of plaster to reveal the colours beneath.

In the spirit of the REVEAL festival (30 June – 8 July), 'Light Sgraffito' will illuminate the full height of the building across three of the Museum's historic façades, creating a colourful new way to experience the Museum's architecture at night, and celebrate the V&A's history and collections.

The six contributing artists all have ties to the V&A's collection and have been drawn from a cross-section of fields, from fashion to graphic design. Artists' contributions of images, patterns and drawings have been translated into a new, site specific light work by visual arts studio Greenaway & Greenaway.

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The sgraffito façade of the Henry Cole Wing was designed by a member of staff at the Museum, Francis Moody, and his students in the late 19th century. It was one of a number of experiments that were carried out in the Museum's buildings to discover better, or cheaper, techniques of decoration that might be suitable for a modern, polluted urban environment. After careful conservation and repair in 2012, this intriguing architectural curiosity has finally been revealed.

Photograph showing sgraffito (engraved plaster decoration) on the east side of the Science Schools (now Henry Cole Wing), designed by F.W. Moody and executed by students of the Art Schools, about 1870. Museum no. CIS 77778. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Light Sgraffito takes place between 21.20 and 00.30 until 8 July.