x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 December 2017

V&A eyes new overseas projects, inspired by Louvre Abu Dhabi

The art world is still celebrating the recent opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, but other museums are also hoping to flex their muscles on the international stage

Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society, in Shekou, Shenzhen (copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society, in Shekou, Shenzhen (copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

This weekend, the Victoria & Albert Museum opens the doors to its new V&A Gallery in Shenzhen, China.

It could be the first of many more international collaborations for the London museum, as it takes inspiration from the success of Louvre Abu Dhabi, its deputy director Tim Reeve told The National.

“There’s no doubt that when something really big and really high impact like Louvre Abu Dhabi opens, every country around the world will be looking at it with a certain amount of envy,” Mr Reeve said. “Countries will look at it and ask themselves, ‘OK, are we doing enough?’”

Mr Reeve admitted that the V&A’s international strategy, up to now, could be described as “lacking in ambition” in terms of a 21st century museum. But the new V&A Gallery in Shenzhen is its first real attempt to address that impression.

“It’s our version of Louvre Abu Dhabi,” he said. “It’s our first major international collaboration. The scale of the commitment and I would imagine the money involved are on a different level. But it feels like the right model for us.”

The gallery, which is part of the new cultural hub Design Society in Shekou, Shenzhen, was launched in collaboration with China Merchants Shekou Holdings. The partnership is intended to last around five years, and the gallery's launch exhibition Values of Design features 250 objects from the V&A’s collection.

The London museum will also send touring exhibitions out to the region, to “really give the new museum a heart and a soul and a purpose,” Mr Reeve said.

The Sea World Culture and Arts Centre designed by Fumihiko Maki and operated by Design Society, which houses the new V&A Gallery in Shekou, Shenzhen. (Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
The Sea World Culture and Arts Centre designed by Fumihiko Maki and operated by Design Society, which houses the new V&A Gallery in Shekou, Shenzhen. (Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

“We don’t have the financial might or resources of the Louvre, so this is a great way for us to try and attain some of the impact of a Louvre project with a different model,” he said.

“The reason we like our model is because we’re not taking a huge amount of financial risk in ploughing V&A resources into constructing a new museum in a different country,” he added. “Someone else is taking the lion’s share of that risk. Our responsibility in the collaboration is to do what we do best, which is providing content.”

One of the advantages of such a model, he said, is that it allows the V&A to be “fleet of foot” – “so if something fascinating happens elsewhere in the design world, we can go there quickly”.

Could the UAE be their next step? Mr Reeve said it’s too early to say, but never say never.

“Because this is our first big project outside the UK, we want to make sure we evaluate it properly before we move on to other places,” he said.

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Read more:

British dismay as France benefits from spectacular Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi: the arrival of the Arab world’s first universal museum is just the start of a cultural blossoming in the Gulf

Watch: Building of Louvre Abu Dhabi captured in stunning eight-year time-lapse video

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“It’s too early to say where we’d want to go next, but the V&A doesn’t have any geographical boundaries – like most museums, we’re about the idea, and about the collection. I couldn’t possibly say ‘Yes we will go to the UAE,’ but I also wouldn’t rule anything out. If the model is successful, we would want to do more of it.”

Mr Reeve was the V&A’s representative at the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi last month, and he praised the “extraordinary” ambition of the new museum.

“The Louvre Abu Dhabi building is extraordinary, the ambition of it, and the commitment from the UAE and from France is inspiring,” he said. “It’s a real ‘wow’ building when you walk in there, and I take my hat off to the Louvre and to the Abu Dhabi government.”

“That model is not a model for the V&A, but it shows pretty clearly that the UAE is serious about its investment in culture and in tourism, so I think we, like other museums around the world, will now pause and see how audiences and visitors respond to it.”

As the UK looks to its future outside the European Union, it will be more important than ever for the British government to help cultural institutions such as the V&A to achieve their international aspirations, he said.

“We should never be complacent, and certainly for post-Brexit Britain it will be even more important than ever that the creative industries are playing their part overseas in terms of cultural collaboration, commercial collaboration and making sure we’re building bridges with nations that want to do business with us,” he said.

“It’s definitely, definitely not a time to be resting on our laurels.

“But I’m confident that the V&A is doing its bit, and I think the UK government needs to continue to incentivise and support institutions like ours to take on these projects overseas with ambition and panache.”

The V&A Gallery opens as part of the new cultural hub Design Society in Shekou, Shenzhen, on 2 December vam.ac.uk/designsociety