London's V&A Museum Opens Amanda Levete-Designed Exhibition Road Quarter

V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

London's esteemed museum of design, art, architecture and engineering, the V&A unveiled on July 1 its new public spaces. A street party extended along Exhibition Road, accompanied by floating art from Tomás Saraceno, a fashion spectacular from designer Molly Goddard, and a hybrid opera from Anat Ben-David.

Simply stated, the V&A is shaking off some dust, offering a revamped entrance affectionately dubbed the 'Millenials' Entrance' offering a zone for the museum as entertainment, an alternative to computer screens and coffee shops. 

The new entrance slices through the base of the Aston Webb stone screen built in 1909 to conceal the museum’s Victorian boilers. Located opposite the Science Museum and Natural History Museum, the entrance could boost visitor numbers to the V&A, writes The Art Newspaper. (three million in the past financial year) by around 10%.   The courtyard is named after the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, which gave £10m to the project.

At the end of this piazza lies the new Blavatnik Hall, which connects to the museum’s main collection galleries and faces into the Victorian central courtyard. It is named after Len Blavatnik, the Ukrainian-born US businessman whose family foundation donated £5m. 

New director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt has been critical of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

New director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt has been critical of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The executive on a mission to being young people into the V&A as a hangout sort of place is the museum's new director Tristram Hunt, who resigned in January 2013 as a Labour MP. The former shadow education secretary had initially hoped to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader in 2015, campaigning on a non-Bernie Sanders/Jeremy Corbyn platform. At the time, Hunt insisted that his departure wasn't intended to "rock the boat". He simply believed he could be more effective pursuing a career outside politics, leading one of London's most prestigious cultural institutions. 

 The Art Fund’s director, Stephen Deuchar, called Hunt’s appointment “a very clever choice”. 

Deuchar said: “I think it is an inspired choice, I really do. He is a great communicator and he is really committed to the social purposes and potential of museums and visual culture more generally.”

Deuchar, who once ran Tate Britain, said it was not essential that Hunt had no previous experience running a museum: “He knows the UK museum scene better than a lot of museum professionals, I dare say. It looks as if he has the perfect range of experience to apply to this really important job.”

For his part, Hunt's February 2017 talk on the future of the V&A, hit the issue straight-on: 

 “I don’t think you could have a more young, dynamic, creative, and provocative audience, but clearly we have to build on that.”

It is hard not to feel that the young crowd Hunt is looking to is the new generation of creatives—those “starting out as a digital designer, an architect or a games producer,”—rather than the multitude who might still feel so grand an institution was not for them. Inclusivity is a sensitive issue in this London borough—Kensington and Chelsea—home to both the V&A and Grenfell Tower, the site of a horrific fire that has become totemic of inequality, exclusion, and neglectful oversight in the area. via ArtNet

Descending staircase, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

Descending staircase, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

Designed by Amanda Levete and her AL_A architecture practice after winning the commission six years ago, the £54.5 million ($70.65 million) Exhibition Road Quarter brings the V&A a bundle of extra space in a part of London with scant wriggle room and viciously priced real estate. 

Rather than building up, as male architects tend to do as a symbol of masculine hubris, explains Levete, she dug deeply into 'the land under the V&A, creating roots perhaps inspired by Gaia creative forces. “Now there’s a new modesty, a new understanding of the place of the museum in the city. With so little space left in cities, I think this is an exemplary illustration of how you can create drama by going below ground and create open public spaces at the same time, so you get a double return for your investment.”

The Sainsbury Gallery, The V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Sainsbury Gallery, The V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

The exhibition gallery, sponsored by the Sainsbury family, is a big, tall, blank box, with (adjustable) natural light from an oculus in the courtyard. It will remain empty, hosting music, performance, and ephemeral projects through to late September, when it will house the V&A’s major fall exhibition 'Opera: Passion, Power and Politics'.

The Sainsbury family donated  £18m from the Monument Trust  (established by the late Simon Sainsbury) and the Headley Trust (established by Timothy Sainsbury).  Reviewing the four donors who supported three-quarters for the V&A expansion, the Art Newspaper explains

Strauss's opera Salome will feature in a V&A show (Photo: Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images)

Strauss's opera Salome will feature in a V&A show (Photo: Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images)

This single room has the flexibility to be configured differently for each show, encouraging curators to think more imaginatively than in the existing galleries in the main V&A building. Its column-free design heralds “exhibitions on an ascending scale of blockbusterishness”, wrote the Guardian’s architecture critic Rowan Moore.

Tristram Hunt has officially expanded the V&A's mission, defining it as a "museum of art and design and performance" and not only "art and design". The V&A's massive exhibition on David Bowie is now at its tenth international venue, at the Museu del Disseny in Barcelona until Spetember 25, 2017. 

The inaugural show on opera -- 'Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (September 30-February 25 2018) features mroe than 300 objects and focuses on seven opera premieres across four centuries, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna (1786), Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Paris (1861) and Strauss’s Salome in Dresden (1905).including  will be followed in spring 2018 by an exhibition on designing the future, which has not yet been formally announced. 

The Sackler Courtyard, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Sackler Courtyard, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.