V&A opens new furniture gallery

V&A museum opens new furniture gallery

News: this Saturday the V&A museum opens its new permanent gallery for furniture, displaying objects from the middle ages to the present day by designers including Thomas Chippendale, Charles and Ray Eames and Ron Arad.

Top image: storage unit by Charles and Ray Eames, USA, 1949-50

V&A opens new furniture gallery

The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, named after the founder of the Bard Graduate Center in New York, is the first ever V&A gallery dedicated to furniture and contains over 200 pieces demonstrating a range of materials and techniques, from joinery and gilding to upholstery and digital manufacturing.

V&A opens new furniture gallery

Designed by Glasgow firm NORD Architecture, the gallery will enable the museum to display pieces that have not been shown to the public for more than 30 years.

V&A opens new furniture gallery

In a change from the museum's usual curatorial approach, the objects are arranged thematically rather than by period or place – for instance, an Art Deco lacquer screen is presented alongside an example of the 16th century Japanese lacquer work that inspired it.

V&A opens new furniture gallery

Above: Chair for the Ward Willets House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902; ©ARS, NY and DACS

The architects chose not to provide explanatory captions for each piece in order to bring viewers closer to the objects. Instead, touch screen panels have been placed around the gallery to provide information.

V&A opens new furniture gallery

Above: Tristan and Isolde casket, Northern Europe c. 1350-70

One of the newest pieces on display is Wooden Heap, a drawer unit designed by Boris Dennler and acquired as part of this year’s Design Fund to Benefit the V&A.

V&A opens new furniture gallery

Above: cradle designed by Richard Norman Shaw, England c. 1861

We recently reported on the appointment of journalist Kieran Long as senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital at the V&A.

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Photographs are courtesy of the V&A, except where stated.

Here's the full press release from the V&A:

The V&A will open its new Dr Susan Weber Gallery in December, providing a permanent home for the Museum’s internationally renowned furniture collection. The Museum has always displayed furniture in other galleries, but this will be the first ever V&A gallery dedicated to furniture. It is also the only gallery worldwide to tell the story of furniture production through the way each piece was made and the people who made it.

Designed by NORD Architecture, the gallery will display more than 200 outstanding pieces of British and European furniture, from the Middle Ages to the present day, as well as examples of American and Asian furniture and will examine in detail the range of materials and techniques employed for each piece.

The gallery will enable the V&A to show some objects that have not been on display for more than 30 years, with pieces ranging from chairs, stools, tables, bureaux, chests, cabinets and wardrobes, to clocks, mirrors and screens. Well-known designers such as Thomas Chippendale, David Roentgen, Grinling Gibbons, George Bullock, Robert Adam, Eileen Gray, Michael Thonet, Charles and Ray Eames, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon will be represented alongside lesser-known names selected for their superior techniques.

The gallery will tell the story of how furniture was made and decorated over 600 years, exploring a thematic range of materials and techniques ranging from joinery, moulding, upholstery and digital manufacture, to carving, marquetry, gilding and lacquer. It will focus on techniques of construction and decoration and will include numerous examples of how conservation and analysis have revealed previously unknown information about the way in which the objects were made. On display will be a 15th-century medieval desk cupboard which reveals how English furniture makers of the time used oak sourced from 1500 miles away, and a bureau (1780-1820) from Mexico, veneered with mother-of-pearl which would have required craftsmen to saw shells for 5000 hours.

Highlights will include a dining chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1949), a gilded cassone made for the Duke of Urbino (about 1509) and a scagliola decorated table formerly at Warwick Castle (1675). A central chronological display will highlight 25 key pieces from the collection ranging from a storage unit by Charles and Ray Eames (1949-50), a Gothic revival cradle designed by Richard Norman Shaw (1861) to one of the newest pieces in the collection, the ‘Branca’ chair, designed by Industrial Facility (2011) and Wooden Heap, a drawer unit designed by Boris Dennler, which was acquired as part of this year’s Design Fund to Benefit the V&A. There will also be a newly-commissioned seating installation by contemporary designer Gitta Gschwendtner, inspired by historic pieces in the collection.

The gallery will incorporate innovative and interactive technologies such as digital labels with a touch-screen interface to provide additional content and context for each object, a first for the V&A. Films in the gallery will explore key techniques including joinery, boulle marquetry and digital manufacturing. 14 specially-commissioned audio recordings will record the responses of contemporary experts, including David Adjaye and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, to the work of historic designers.

The gallery has been designed as part of the V&A’s FuturePlan to transform the Museum through new galleries and redisplays of its collections. FuturePlan aims to create beautiful and contemporary new settings for the V&A’s outstanding collections while restoring much of the building’s original architecture and improving visitors’ experience of the Museum.