A Gallery Too Far ...?
To paraphrase the 1977 Second World War "blockbuster" movie, A Bridge Too Far starring Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins and many others. Maybe we were biting off more than we could chew in little more than a week (not counting the long haul travel days and cross Channel train).
The Victoria and Albert Museum in three-quarters of a day? I don't think so, Batman.
I mean ... this alone took nearly half an hour and it's just the ceiling of the Tea Room. It has a grand piano, by the way.
We had arranged to meet a friend of Spike, named Nicola. They first met at primary school in year one. So, both aged five. If they'd spent the 42 years since then just visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum every weekend, the chances are they could not have seen all there is to see.
Our plan was that we would take the No. 24 bus to Knightsbridge then eat in the café (cos that's ... like ... the 11th Commandment in the Bible ... when in an Art Gallery or Museum thou shalt order Chai Latte, Cappuccino, carrot cake and petit pain au chocolat ... or a variation on that theme, subject to availability). After dining we would take-in the art. Later in the day we would meet Nicola in the courtyard café for afternoon tea (naturally) .. reminisce for a bit ... then take-in more art.
Spike wanted to make sure we spent time with the Glass Art Collection which seems reasonable, after all, because Spike is a professional glass artist working out of Australia's premier glass-making facility, the Canberra Glassworks. I, on the other hand, wanted to spend time with ... EVERYTHING!!!!
One of us was going to be disappointed.
The omens on arrival sent out mixed messages. On the positive side for Douglas was a decidedly 21st Century innovation -- wheelchair access through the (mightily impressive) front door. On the other hand, the omens seemed to suggest we would be favouring Spike's preference. There is, you see, a four-metre long Dale Chihuly glass sculpture installation suspended from the foyer ceiling above the information desk. Suck it up, Doogs.
It was like, "X marks the Pirate's Treasure". It was a sort of BIG GLASS CLUE in a probably inappropriate subconscious way inside my head cos Dale Chihuly wears a patch over his blind left eye and has a physical impairment which makes him limp when he walks. So, it's like Robert Louis Stephenson, who wrote Treasure Island 140 years before we visited the V & A, just knew Spike and I would spend most of our available -- non-Nicola -- time in the Glass Art Collection.
It's like 'Long John Silver' was calling out to me from the fictional past.
No one gets to see EVERYTHING!!!!, Douglas.
The truth is the V & A is so large, so diverse, so magnificent, so completely in-your-face that if you forget that simple post-Imperial fact when you pass through the wheelchair accessible front door, the vastness of all that waits for you inside can simply overwhelm.
I realised this as soon as I got beyond the gift shop (which is cleverly positioned to require you to pass through it as you enter AND before you leave). I descended one of two marble ramps on either side of marble stairs to enter one of the several sculpture galleries, halls and corridors. Any one of them could keep you spellbound for hours ... maybe days.
Turn left and the long exhibition space stretches out before you. Oh look ... it's The Three Graces by Canova just for starters. So expensive -- years ago -- the V & A and the Scottish National Gallery had to split the purchase cost between them like cultural car pooling.
Turn right and there's more, beginning with the Earl of Winchelsea and Nottingham's marble homage to his beloved wife Emily.
Carry on, searching for the Glass Art Collection, you dash through the giant room of enormous silverware (in which some of the enormous banquet table centre pieces make you feel like Gulliver making 'A Voyage to Brobdingnag' -- the opposite of Lilliput, if you've never read the book).
Pass through the tranquil, dimly lit jewelry rooms, the cast iron fences corridor, the wooden chairs over the centuries gallery, the enormous Japan suite and -- talking about enormous -- take another wrong turn on your quest and -- metaphorically speaking only -- trip over this guy -- David (a real size copy) -- in one of the two almost unimaginable Cast Courts.
Then find the glass elevator (of course) that takes you up to the Glass Art Collection. Rooms and rooms of glass. Up the glass stairway an entire wall showing the development of clear glass wine goblets from year 'Dot' to now.
Spike went off to wallow in her craft. I sat mesmerised by just one room -- contemporary glass objects produced across the world in the last 5 to 10 years. Pieces like these.
All this art work in so many forms, so many galleries and rooms and corridors and courts. We'd barely scratched the surface -- not that one should scratch anything in any gallery or museum, of course. It's a metaphor. But the clock kept ticking on remorselessly, eating up the much too little time we given to the idea and artefacts of this magnificent building.
Nicola had arrived and texted Spike. We swept through a Medieval era space (one of several) saying, "look at that" or "did you see that piece there?" or "next time." We were unable to linger. Meeting a friend we have not seen for six years.
Spike's mother (also an accomplished artist) has an approach for dealing / coping / engaging with the V & A and all its treasures. Find a hotel nearby. Book a room for a week. Visit every day, all day.
We'll try that next time.