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The face of Britain

March 5, 2017

Entering the Victoria and Albert museum you are immediately approached by massive marble pillars. They are leading your eyes up, towards the ceiling, you automatically get a feeling of greatness, of the ”face of Britain”. The whole entrance is taking place as a pompous introduction of what to come.

The baroque style of the marble pillars is dated long before the time of the construction of the building. Its design could be thought of as a part of this historical time travel that the museum is about to give the visitor. However, I think that it was rather a decision of how to best illustrate power and importance. For me, it would be more natural to think new, to design something that is more according with the current times in order to show the country as a future driven state. They have in a way tried to create a part of the exhibition with the building itself instead of building around the exhibition.

This is a way of showing the greatness of Britain, with this big piece of history and design. Is Britain trying to portray themselves as the rich country with the great history, the right museum for looking at art and artefacts from a ”true” perspective? I am wondering who chose to include this design of the pillars. Is this the true, honest representation of British art and design? Are most British citizens proud of this image or would they in fact choose something less extravagant, something less bragging about Britain itself and something that is more a portrayal of what could be found inside.

The extravagant building is leading away the attention from the objects themselves. The tall marble pillars does not just play the function of being attractive. They have a big role in the way the whole room is perceived. The eyes wonder high up, onto the roof and all of the detail of the building. The airy feel of the entrance is soon shut down when you walk through the collections from Asia and the Middle East on the bottom floor. The objects are fairly bad lit and it is quite a depressive feeling radiated from these exhibition halls. Objects of religious or spiritual character can even be found in the hallways. Whereas, the British art and design objects are all found in light, spacious environments on the upper floors of the building, with this same high ceiling again.

Is this a coincidence? That non European parts of the world are displayed on the bottom floor, right after the great entrance of the building, with the marble pillars, reaching up to the high roof. Straight after enjoying this greatness of British architectural history you are, by looking at placement and portrayal, led into the less important part of the Victoria and Albert museum.


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