V&A Dundee to open in September with ocean liners exhibition

Dundee's 80 million waterfront museum has been in the planning for more than a decade.
Dundee's 80 million waterfront museum has been in the planning for more than a decade.
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A lavish celebration of the golden age of ocean travel will be unveiled at Dundee’s long-awaited V&A Museum of Design when it opens to the public in the autumn.

Rarely-seen artefacts, outfits, works of art, furniture and fittings from some of the world’s greatest liners will be showcased at the city’s £80 million waterfront attraction, which will finally be unveiled in September after more than a decade in the planning.

Scotland’s newest architectural landmark, which has been masterminded by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma over the last eight years, is at the heart of a £1 billion regeneration of the city’s waterfront.

An official public opening date of Saturday 15 September has been announced, but still to be announced are details of an official opening celebration, which is expected to be a highlight of Scotland’s Year of Young People.

V&A Dundee director Philip Long said: “I can’t go into the details at the moment, but we are planning something significant for the opening, as I think would be expected. It is a major project in Scotland and we want to celebrate that.

“There is great deal of planning and discussions across the city going on behind the scenes in preparation for the opening event. It’s going to be a great moment for the city and everything that has been achieved. The opening event will reflect the ambition of V&A Dundee and be a showcase of creativity.”

The first visitors to V&A Dundee will be able see the largest remaining fragment of the Titanic, from the first-class lounge of the doomed vessel, as well as a diamond and pearl tiara which was saved from the Lusitania when it was sunk in a German u-boat attack off the Irish coast in the First World War.

Charting the evolution of the world’s “great floating palaces” between the mid-19th century and the early 20th century, the first ever international exhibition to be devoted to ocean liners will feature the luggage used by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson after he abdicated in 1936.

The exhibition, which will draw extensively from the V&A’s own fashion collections, will feature a Christian Dior suit worn by actress Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in New York on board the Queen Elizabeth in 1950, a 1930s yellow swimsuit worn by the wealthy Londoner Lady Swettenham on her travels, and a “flapper dress” by French designer Jeanne Lanvin, which belonged to Emilie Grigsby, a regular American passenger between the UK and New York in the 1910s and 1920s.

More than 250 paintings, sculptures, ship and engine models, wall panels, furniture, fashion, textiles, photographs, posters and film footage will be brought together from public and private collections around the world.

The exhibition, which will explore Scotland’s part in the design and development of ocean liners, will feature the Stanley Spencer painting The Riveters from the 1941 series Shipbuilding on the Clyde, commissioned to record the industries involved in the Second World War effort.

Sophie McKinlay, director of exhibitions at V&A Dundee, said: “Visitors will get a sense of what it would have been like to experience life on board an ocean liner. There is a lot to be said about the romance of these floating cities which are a wonderful example of a totally designed experience.

“As well as the glamour and hugely successful marketing of ocean liners, the exhibition will also venture into the engine rooms of these impressive vessels, exploring the innovations in engineering that so radically changed the way people travel.

“This exhibition demonstrates how design covers such a huge range of disciplines drawing upon collections, skills and expertise as well as exploring the design and cultural impact of the ocean liner in a way that has never been done before.”

Exhibition curator Ghislaine Wood said: “This exhibition has been four years in the making and from the outset research for the V&A Dundee project played a key role in its development. It highlights how Scottish design and engineering innovation was at the centre of the spectacular evolution of the ocean liner. It is truly fitting that it will be the first V&A Dundee exhibition.”

The inside of Dundee’s new museum is expected to be kept firmly under wraps until the week of the opening. However it has just been confirmed that Turner Prize-nominated artist Ciara Phillips will be creating a site-specific installation for the upper floor of the museum - inspired by the V&A’s vast Scottish design collection.

Two of the four galleries will have permanent displays telling “the story of Scotland’s outstanding design heritage.” Around 300 objects spanning more than 500 years will showcase everything from furniture, textiles, metalwork and ceramics to the latest digital technology, innovations in the health service, modern-day architecture and fashions.

Going on display will be a 500-year-old book of Christian text, prayers and psalms featuring several Scottish saints, a Jacobite garter, a Highland pistol, a pair of “Wellington Boots,” a Dennis the Menace artwork from the famous comic strip and an elephant-shaped case designed by the artist Eduardo Paolozzi for the linoleum company Nairn Floors.

Also included will be an Indian throne chair created by a Berwickshire painter Robert Home, a bookcase created by “Glasgow Style” designer George Logan for the city’s famous International Exhibition in 1901 and a recreation of part of a Glasgow tearoom designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Mr Long added: “After many years of planning for V&A Dundee, we’re absolutely thrilled to announce the date of the new museum’s opening. In just eight months we will be opening the doors and welcoming our first visitors. V&A Dundee is set to be a vital new cultural organisation for Dundee, the UK and beyond, helping to change understanding of just how important design and creativity are to people’s lives.

“V&A Dundee brings something new to Scotland. It is the country’s first museum dedicated to design, which visitors will be able to experience and get involved with in very many ways. Particularly important is that the new museum enables major V&A exhibitions to be seen more widely by more people across the UK.

During a recent visit to the site, Kuma told of his hopes that it will become both a “living room” and “community centre” for the city. His striking design, which has been compared to a ship, is said to have been inspired by the cliff-faces that Kuma, who is working on Tokyo’s stadium for the 2020 Olympics, found on Scotland’s east coast near Arbroath. Around 2,500 cast stone panels have been hung on to the exterior walls of the museum to try to replicate the sea cliffs Kuma saw when he was bidding to win the competition.

The cost of the project has almost doubled since his design won a £45m international competition and its scheduled opening is around four years later than originally envisaged. A new network of roads and a public park, Slessor Gardens, have been created in the waterfront area dominated by the museum, which is connected to the city centre via Union Street, and a new railway station.