V&A Dundee director: New museum not an outstation of London base

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The director of the new V&A Dundee has spoken of the challenges – and the “thrill” – of setting up the design museum as it prepares to welcome the public.

The Kengo Kuma-designed building will open its doors on September 15, the striking centrepiece of the ongoing £1 billion regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront.

More than a decade after the idea of establishing a V&A in Scotland’s fourth city was first discussed, director Philip Long said everything is in place to make it a must-see destination for visitors from all over the world.

V&A Dundee director Philip Long
Philip Long took up the role of V&A director in 2011 (Robert Perry/V&A Dundee)

“The biggest challenge has been the magnitude of the project overall.

“V&A Dundee is not an outstation of the V&A in London. As one of the founding partners V&A is a core part, but we here in Dundee are a new team that has come together to develop this project and lead it long into future.”

Museum bosses anticipate high volumes of visitors, and entry over the opening weekend is reserved for those who have pre-booked tickets.

Access is otherwise free and non-ticketed, with the exception of major touring exhibitions. The first, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, looks at the design and cultural impact of cruise ships and travel.

Poster for Canadian Pacific Railways
An original poster for Canadian Pacific from 1920-31 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The jewel in the crown is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room – the conserved and painstakingly reconstructed interior of Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street tearoom which has been unseen for 50 years.

Mr Long, who came to V&A Dundee from National Galleries of Scotland, admits that laying his eyes on the exhibit for the first time was quite an emotional moment.

He said: “It’s one of his great, but lost to view, interiors that is now compete and in the museum.

“It brings back to public view after nearly 50 years – in fact it’s 70 years since it was used as a tearoom – one of this great architect and designer’s works.

“I can tell you, it is a thrilling, quite emotional thing to walk in and see after all of these years.”

The interior is on long-term loan following discussions with Glasgow Museums several years ago.

A scale model of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Oak Room
Joanna Norman, V&A Dundee curator, and Alison Brown from Glasgow Museums with a model of the interior (Robert Perry/V&A Dundee)

“Mackintosh is, after all, one of the world’s greatest architects and designers and happens to be part of Scotland’s design heritage.

“When we set about developing the Scottish Design Galleries, one of the things we needed to ensure was to represent Mackintosh as part of the work we were doing.”

The question has been asked why V&A chose Dundee to set up home, but Mr Long suggests it was the city that chose V&A. Representatives from the University of Dundee got the ball rolling back in 2007, suggesting to the institution it might like to be part of the waterfront regeneration.

Mr Long said: “Dundee really gets the importance of cultural facilities and activities as part of the life of its citizens – that’s been clear over the last 20 years through the investment in new organisations like Dundee Contemporary Arts, or whether it’s the ongoing success of places like Dundee Rep Theatre or the Science Centre or the redevelopment of the McManus.

“All of these things demonstrated to the leadership here that investment in culture is the right thing to do. All of that helped set the scene and the understanding that a discussion about the V&A might be a very exciting thing to think about as a new presence on the waterfront.”

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