'A great deal of emptiness' - Why Dundee's striking-looking V&A museum has me feeling less than 100% passionate
Dundee’s eye-catching V&A opened its doors a little over five years ago to considerable hullabaloo.
More than a decade after plans were initially mooted, the 2018 opening marked the first dedicated design museum in Scotland and the first Victoria & Albert museum outside London. It was also the first building in the UK designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Approaching the city of jam, jute and journalism from Fife, whether by rail or road bridge, the V&A stamps its mark on Dundee’s ever-changing waterfront. It seems fitting that a shrine to design is housed in such a striking building that, with its nautical overtones, remains sympathetic to its surroundings. How it ages, aesthetically and physically, remains to be seen. History, after all, has not been kind to some other styles of architecture - think 1960s Brutalism.
Where the exterior is unquestionably bold, some may find the interior an anti-climax. Don’t get me wrong, along with every other first-time visitor, I looked up in awe when I made my maiden visit to the place. The sense of scale, the vast winding staircase, the gleaming glass lift - everything hinted at a unique experience, a grand day out.
Indeed, that initial encounter of mine coincided with a stunning ocean liner exhibition that was well worth paying the entry fee for. As were some of the subsequent special shows, including the excellent video games one, highlighting an industry that has put the city on the global map.
The issue I have is that beyond those one-off specials, the main free element of the museum is limited in scale and appeal. And where there was once a jolly nice lobby cafe, albeit serving some of Scotland’s most expensive sausage rolls at £5.50 apiece, there is now a great deal of emptiness. Those who have spent hours on end exploring the nooks and crannies of Glasgow’s Riverside transport museum and the city’s Burrell Collection, or Edinburgh’s vast National Museum of Scotland, may come away disappointed.
I really want to be 100 per cent unreservedly passionate about V&A Dundee but, in its present form, my enthusiasm level is probably closer to 50 per cent. And that makes me feel a little bit sad.
Scott Reid is a business journalist at The Scotsman
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