Entering the Museum. When I enter a museum, I may do so with heightened expectations, trepidation, enthusiasm or tiredness. I may have been to the museum before, or be visiting for the first time. I may understand everything which is said to me and that is displayed, or very little of it.
I am usually observant of the initial surroundings, and the physicality of how I have entered. Do I want to pause in the main hall or lobby and gather my thoughts? Do I feel I have entered a different space from the outside world, and is this space an inviting or enticing one?
I am interested in recording these experiences as I want to understand the totality of a museum, and write about it. Often one can read reports of a particular exhibition or a focus on specific objects. While these are an important part of most museums, I am concerned with also investigating subjective experiences.
For example, the photo above is of the entrance hall in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which leads to the European (below) and British (above) galleries. The marble columns and staircases are beautiful, the formality of the architecture enlivened by the intricate patterns of the stone. They are also enhanced by the use of lighting to create a sense of intimacy in what is a large and grand space. For me, this is a work of art itself, a place to pause and notice such details. But perhaps that is because I have been to the V&A many times, and am confident enough to pause in spaces which others walk through.
On this occasion, a few weeks ago, I also paused on the steps and looked at a series of stone statues set into wall recesses.
The statues are of English kings, and were originally part of the medieval high cross in Bristol. As objects representing the sovereign, they are a little unimpressive, perhaps due to their small size and the damage they have build up through time. I have just entered into a royal museum, and there are numerous mentions of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert outside the building.
There are several possible means of entering the building, including the new public entrance on Exhibition Road, and another one connected to the public subway which links the other museums in South Kensington. This latter entrance has an element of secrecy to it, as it takes you directly into the museum, rather than to another formal entrance (as is the case for the Natural History and Science Museums). The subway itself is very dingy in comparison to the V&A’s other entrances, prompting a feeling of moving from an underworld into a utopian paradise. Such transformations are also in operation for the staff/business entrances which tend towards the functional.
Going fully outside, there are also several ways of approaching the V&A, most of which conceal the enormity of the building. As mentioned, the Museum is part of a larger complex, Albertopolis, stemming from the 1851 Great Exhibition, and today this includes the Natural History and Science Museums which are opposite the V&A. This museum cluster attracts a large number of visitors obviously. One can then have the sense of a public procession, walking from South Kensington underground station, either above ground or in the subway. Alternatively, you can walk via Thurloe Square and avoid any crowds, and this way also provides the best view of the scale of the V&A from across the Cromwell Road.
This then returns me to the museum’s main entrance. Even as frequent visitor, my expectations for the unknown are high – I want to be surprised by something. There is also the reassuring familiarity of certain objects and spaces within the museum. And to be alert for changes, in new rooms opened, other rooms closed, new displays, old ones which I have never notice before. Ahead of me is a huge tapestry being unfurled, being mended and being expanded every time I look at it.