2005 World-Renowned Ceramics Galleries

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In 2005 the world-renowned Ceramics galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London closed for the first time since 1909. The V&A's encyclopedic collections encompass the entire history of ceramic production from the 3rd millennium BCE to the present day, arguably the greatest ceramics collection in the world. The beautifully sky-lit spaces were purpose built for the display of the collection but over time, the dated and dusty display cases not only became an eyesore but a security threat when conservators realized how easy it was for any visitor with a pen to open the priceless cases. A decision was made to clear out, rethink, rebuild and replace the collection in modern steel and glass cases that allow for an improved visitor experience as well as state of the art curatorial access to the collection.

Phase I of the project was completed in September 2009 with the reopening of a suite of galleries showcasing ceramics from different ages and geographic locations juxtaposed with materials and techniques of production. A wonderful video was produced with Reino Liefkes, Senior Curator in the Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass discussing the Phase 1 gallery opening.



For the Phase II opening on June 10, 2010 the Ceramics and Glass department had it's work cut out for them, 3000 objects on display with Phase I, 23,000 installed in Phase II. Two long galleries and two circular galleries including themed side wall galleries using the pre-existing brass and glass cabinets. The central low wooden display cases have been replaced with mirror image, thirteen foot glass and steel cases housing the dense-display study collection. These cases run the length of the galleries or are in an open circular pattern in the two round galleries allowing visitors to walk around the cases and allowing curators access to a six-foot wide avenue between the cases. The shelves are four feet deep and four feet across chock-a-block with ceramic beauty from every country and period. Visitors will not only be able to see the entire collection first hand, (instead of having it housed off-site in store) but as all the pieces have been photographed and published online, visitors will be able to request access to specific pieces via in-gallery computer terminals as well as over the internet. Search the Galleries is now even optimized for iPhones and other smartphones.

The schedule for installation was 200 pieces per day, averaging five shelves in two shifts. Though the schedule seemed superhuman, taking into consideration that the majority of the items required cleaning and photography, the galleries opened to the public on time and to much public praise.



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