The back of the new V&A Museum in Dundee on a very stormy day.
The new V&A museum in Dundee finally opened its doors to the public a few days ago, 4 years later than planned and nearly £40 million over budget. Anyway, there has been a huge hubbub about this building and there was a 3 day festival to celebrate it's opening with bands, fireworks, light shows, the full monty. The media have whipped people up into a delirious frenzy proclaiming it Dundee's saviour, a figurehead for the new Dundee, and suchlike. Reviews have been gushingly positive with hardly a negative word said against it. So,full of enthusiasm, I went for a visit on the third day it was open to the general public.
The weather was a storm with howling winds so I figured it might be a bit quieter than the previous days when people were queuing to get in. So the first thing was a walk around the outside of the building and I have to say it is pretty cool. The sheer scale of the building is quite awesome and twists and curves of the concrete striations lead your eye around it and make you want to explore around it more. It really is far better to view up close than it from distance where it looks a tad underwhelming. This exterior area has been really well thought out and certainly heightens the anticipation for what lies inside.
Unfortunately, getting in wasn't so easy. The design of the exterior seems to channel the prevalent wind right towards the entrance. I admit it was a very windy day but I was still able to walk around in the wind. However, the closer I got to the main entrance, the more intense the wind became, to the stage I could barely move in it, and that's not an exaggeration.
So after battling the winds I eventually got inside and the first thing I am greeted with is this amazing foyer area, a huge area of space that is quite breathtaking. Circling around this is the staircase which invites you to the upper level to where the exhibit rooms are. But what have they plonked in this remarkable foyer area, a coffee shop and a gift shop. Here you have this amazing space which is just prime ripe for exhibit pieces, pieces which could have been viewed not just from floor level but from the staircase and upper level balconies. However, not to be, it's a coffee shop instead. Moreover, this area of space is just asking to be explored, and although there is some scope for this, the area seems cluttered, and areas where people are sitting eating / drinking feels like protected space so you don't want to go barging around them just to get a better view.
So anyway, up the stairs to exhibit area. In the upper foyer you get some modern art on the wall, there are some paper sculptures and some pencil things in wood, all of which nobody seemed that interested in probably because they weren't that interesting. And unfortunately, that really sets the tone for the rest of the stuff on display there. As you go towards the Scottish Desing exhibit, there is this Jaguar car slung in a corner which shows something to do with the stages of it's development. Again, pretty uninteresting. The car itself looks like a boring little town runaround so nothing much to excite or enthrall.
Into the Scottish Design exhibit (the free exhibit) and it's just the same, a few pieces which I found moderately interesting but most of it was pretty unstimulating. In addition, this area was actually quite small and the pieces seemed shoehorned in with not a great deal of continuity between them. However, I appreciate it is a small space and the exhibit has quite broad scope. The main headline grabber in this exhibit is the reconstructed tearoom designed by Charles Rennie McIntosh. When inside, the design and build is quite interesting but the space is so small and feels so barren as there is no furniture, it again didn't hold my interest very long.
And that's the problem with the exhibits in here, there is nothing awesome, nothing with that wow factor, nothing that draws your attention in deeply. Everyone's taste is different and some may be enthralled by the exhibits here but they weren't to my taste and not to the taste of my friend I was with who seemed similarly disillusioned.
There is a second exhibition room on Cruise Liners which you have to pony up £10-£12 to get in. I didn't visit it as time was wearing on but I would hope for that money it would be more impressive than the other exhibit room. Supposedly, the temporary exhibit space (which the cruise liner exhibit is in) is huge. However, surely charging for entry to get into the larger, more impressive gallery space goes against the inclusivity that the museum is trying to promote.
Anyway, that was enough for me. I was going to look out from another of the balcony / viewing areas but that sat at the back of another coffee shop / restaurant and again it felt like a protected space and I didn't want to go barging by people who were dining just to get a different view. So I came away feeling slightly underwhelmed.
It really is an amazing building. It is fantastic to walk around inside and out, and it is great for a small city like Dundee to have attracted such an iconic building with such a prestigious name. However the use of the internal space seems slightly thoughtless and with so much space given over to eating / drinking areas and a gift shop, coupled with lacklustre exhibit pieces, it feels like this buildings primary public function is as a coffee shop rather than a museum, much like the DCA in Dundee. I appreciate running costs must be high and they have to claw that back somehow but when I go to a museum, I first and foremost go to view interesting exhibit pieces, not drink coffee.
I know this all sounds a bit negative, but it really is great to have this iconic building in the city. For me however, the use of the internal space needs rejigged and they need more interesting exhibit pieces in the free exhibit space to make it really live up to it's billing of being a figurehead museum for everyone.