Today it is one month to go until the grand re-opening of the Cast Courts galleries, and to celebrate I wanted to share a few sneak peek photographs, and say a little about the hard work that has been happening across the space. These galleries are currently a hive of activity with technicians, conservators, electricians, decorators and contractors working hard to prepare the spaces for opening. There is still plenty to keep us busy in the next few weeks, but the galleries are shaping up nicely and it is exciting to see all our planning coming together.
With a month to go the gallery has now been sealed and protected as we make final preparations for the re-launch of the galleries on 1 December. This is to enable hoardings to be removed, painting and lighting to be finished, and will allow for installation and cleaning to be completed. Gallery 111 runs between the two courts on the first-floor level, and this gallery has also been shut to remove the hoardings that have enclosed the work taking place in 46A. However, from tomorrow, this gallery will be re-opening and visitors and staff will be able to get a fabulous view looking down into both courts to see how they are shaping up. What you can’t see from Gallery 111 is the new Cast Courts Interpretation Gallery sitting directly beneath. This is a brand-new space and will be a complete surprise to staff and visitors when this space opens. This gallery will explore the museum’s interest in, and relationship with, copying and reproduction, telling the story from the museum’s inception in 1851 all the way through until 2018. Some fabulous new acquisitions will bring this story right up to date, and will be displayed alongside over 100 objects from the permanent collection, some of which will be being displayed for the very first time.
Gallery 46A has been shut for nearly three years. The space has been renovated and re-interpreted, and the gallery now more closely matches the colour and feel of the 19th-century space but has been thoroughly updated for new visitors. The 1980s black lino floor has been removed to reveal the beautiful tiles below, the walls have been re-painted, new lights and plinths installed, and all of the labels have been re-written. Every object in the gallery has been cleaned and conserved, and this is thanks to the monumental effort of colleagues in sculpture conservation and technical services. One of the biggest changes to the space will be that visitors will now be able to sit inside Trajan’s Column and marvel at this feat of 19th-century technical innovation, which meets the classical world on the outside of the cast.
Gallery 46B is home to the cast of Michelangelo’s David, and the electrotype copies of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, and this gallery was the focus of a similar FuturePlan project, re-opening to the public in 2014. In the next few weeks the objects in this gallery will be cleaned ready for the opening and, if you happen to be looking down from Gallery 111, you will most likely spot a team of staff from across the museum supporting conservation with this important work.
Over the last few months we have also been making a number of new films to go in the gallery, and some of these will be appearing on our website over the next few months. I will be talking more about how and why we have made some of these in some upcoming posts.
Three new books are also being published to celebrate the re-opening of the galleries, and are a culmination of all the research that has been undertaken by staff across the museum during this FuturePlan project. Copy Culture: Sharing in the Age of Reproduction edited by Brendan Cormier is out now, and the V&A will soon be publishing ‘The Cast Courts’ edited by Angus Patterson and Holly Trusted, and ‘The Museum and the Factory’ by Angus Patterson and Alistair Grant. If you are interested in learning more about the museum’s collection of copies, how and why they were made, and what copying means in the future, look out for these on sale in the museum shops. When the gallery opens I will share some photos and more information about the new objects on display, but I hope many of you will also come and visit the new galleries over the coming months and enjoy these magnificent spaces. This project has involved colleagues from across the museum, and I would like to thank everybody that has been involved and is continuing to work so hard on this amazing project.