25 October 2011

New Gallery!

Gustave Le Gray. The Brig, 1856
Well, I say 'New Gallery!' - I actually mean 'expansion and re-launch of a previously-existing gallery/ collection!', but it's not really as snappy... I'm referring, of course, to the opening of the Victoria & Albert Museum's new Photographs Gallery, a permanent space for the display of the V&A's massive photography collection, now half a million items strong. Yep, you heard me - half a million items. The V&A was the first museum to collect and display photography as an artform (or documentary tool, or scientific/ technological marvel – I don't think the Victorians had really decided) in its own right and now has one of the oldest, most significant and most wide-ranging collections in the world.

According to my (not nerdy) V&A magazine, by the time the museum opened in 1857, the director, Henry Cole, had already amassed quite a collection of photographs.  Some of these early works were donated by Prince Albert himself and others were acquired by Cole on studio visits to new practitioners; I love the idea of this – an English civil servant, whose picture probably appears next to 'Victorian' in the dictionary, going on studio visits to see the innovators of the new art form.. Anyway, in the years since, the collection has grown and grown, keeping pace with developments in the medium so that now, not only does the museum have a remarkable record of the very first developments in photography, but these works exist alongside recent acquisitions by contemporary artists - both established 'names' and up-and-coming practitioners. I love the V&A.

Curtis Moffat, Dragonfly, c. 1930
Anyway, history lectures aside, I have always loved going to see the photography displays at the V&A, been totally amazed by the range of work on display and the thoughtful way it is arranged, and always been slightly disappointed that this gorgeous collection (and its skilled curators) are relegated to a tiny room, off a dark corridor, behind the bookshop. Now, however (as of 24th October 2011), that space is to be joined by a large, renovated gallery. Two floors up, the new gallery will be dedicated to the existing, historical collection, with temporary displays of contemporary work to be shown in the ground-floor space. Several major newspapers have reported on this opening – which opens with a 'historical sweep' of the collection, including a special focus on the figures of Julia Margaret Cameron and Henri Cartier-Bresson – and the curators/ arts editors/ V&A press representatives have chosen to emphasize many of the collection's earliest works in this coverage. I, for one, was pleased to revisit (and discover) some of the works posted here - cigar-chompin' Brunel features in one of my favourite photos ever..

Robert Howlett, Isambard Kingdom Brunel..., 1857
I am massively excited about going to see the new display and will aim to report back as soon as I've seen it. I'm looking out for the pics above especially, as well as some more recent work that I've never seen in the flesh, including Ed Ruscha's Every Building On The Sunset Strip and some Ansel Adams landscapes. Get in touch if  you've seen it and have any favourite works!