On the 17th of November, fifteen Blueprinter's gathered at the Stove Network on a very chilly Saturday morning, Our destination, lay three hours into the future and in the much, much, colder than Dumfries, City of Dundee!
The V&A has spent some time being billed as one of Scotland's most exciting new cultural attractions so we took the opportunity to see whether it lived up to the hype.
Unfortunately the short answer is no.
Read on for the long answer...
There's no denying that the V&A building is impressive. Frankly, you'd expect nothing less from a design museum and on that promise, it delivers. Perched right on the waterfront, it juts out like some gigantic undercut, gravity defying, Slate cliff face. Designed by Kengo Kuma, architecturally, it is a beautiful addition to the city. Which in a way makes it's contents all the more disappointing. Entering the building feels like you're exploring a deep, organic fissure which opens up, without warning into a vast two storey underground cavern, flooded with warm light, natural wood and a LOT of people. In fact the V&A boasted visitor numbers of over 1ooooo in first three weeks it was open and those numbers seem unlikely to dip just yet. Inside the main vestibule, there is a bustling open plan cafe, a gift shop and a reception/ticket desk. The fact that only two exhibition spaces are free to enter sets the alarm bells ringing. Never the less, upstairs we go in search of creative nourishment.
We quickly down our coffees in order to enter the first exhibition and are immediately underwhelmed by the display deemed to be representative of Scottish design, one that wouldn't look out of place in many more traditional museums and collections around the country. A mixture of textiles, jewellery, weaponry, architectural models etc. with a smattering of film and graphic design thrown in to make it seem slightly more cutting edge. The highlights are the lovely interactive stamp trail which allows children to emboss their leaflet as they go, a more creative take on an ink stamp trail, and the Oak Room, created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and painstakingly restored nearly fifty years after it was last seen in it's entirety. The Oak Room is an incredible piece of design which is unfortunately somewhat overcrowded by the rest of the exhibition which encircles it.
Onwards to the next exhibit, or so we thought. We were slightly shocked to learn we'd already seen the only other free space, a small amount of artwork, glass cabinets with design prototypes and public consultation work that lined some of the walls and a small assigned area of the main open gallery. Whilst some of the work was truly lovely, it was rather sparse. All in all we spent under thirty minutes looking at what had been installed and although none of it was bad... nothing was particularly great either.
We spent the rest of the day going our separate ways with some of us heading off to the Dundee Vegan Festival which happened to coincide with our weekend's visit, The Cooper Gallery under the Art school (which was a particular highlight of mine, filled with a dynamic mix of film,graphics sound and light installation. And also allowed for a sneak peak at some of the art being created by current students), Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Science Centre. We were pretty unanimous in our positive reviews!
Rest assured Dundee has a lot to offer and with the regeneration of the city in full flow with not only the £1 Billion Waterfront plans but four other major sites, things can only get better. Whether all the regeneration is hitting the right tone or not is something that's as yet unclear and but it's all a process and whilst I may not have come away from the V&A raving I have complete faith that given time it will become what it was billed as and be an integral part of Dundee's creative landscape. With the amazing setting, fantastic facilities and so much passion working behind the scenes, it can't not succeed.