The Dr Susan Weber Gallery: The V&A’s new permanent gallery for furniture
For the first time in 150 years, the V&A’s astounding collection of furniture is on display for the public on 1st December. From the beautiful to the bizarre, from the functional to the downright uncomfortable, curators – Nick Humphrey and Leela Meinertas – have worked with architect Graeme Williamson from NORD architecture, to create an exhibition that encourages us to see the history of art and design that make up the objects that we use every day of our lives.
Either side of the tall and serenely lit space, perfect examples of furniture have been handpicked to show the complex techniques of carving, upholstery, lacquer and many more that have contributed to Western design and style. Accessibly positioned on a white background, the objects are strikingly framed by a dark surrounding; for there is something almost magical about the way that these fully-functional objects have been presented. It feels as if you are small enough to fit into the numerous draws of a seventeenth century table cabinet, exploring the little personal histories of this quirky and very charming collection. With 90% of these items being from the museum’s own archive, this seems to have been created as a labour of love. “This is not a gallery of famous names”, Nick Humphrey says. “This is a furniture biography”.
Humphrey, Meinertas and the wonders of NORD have taken into consideration the temptation for us to reach out and touch the precious objects. Glass cabinets and brief descriptions are replaced with audio clips, films and interactive screens showing close-ups and 360° photos. Even the bright, young things of the Techno Age will be blown away by the “Materials Table” – a 3D information and interactive table top that allowed the visitor to see how and why various architectural materials were used to make up the new gallery.
So, who is it for? Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts? Table fanatics? Experts of polypropylene? Well, it’s for all of these people really. But most importantly, as a museum for the people, the V&A have created an exhibition gallery for anyone who has an interest in shape, colour or texture, or for those who just have a curiosity in the way things are made.
Whether an hour or five minutes are spent in the Dr Susan Weber Gallery, it is well worth a visit – a magnificent permanent addition to a museum that is dedicated to art.