V&A Dundee - The Gateway To a New City of Art
by Josie Ayers
Dundee was filled with anticipation and excitement last weekend as the V&A design museum was finally opening its doors to the public. Ten years in the making at the cost of around £80 million, the bold project to bring the V&A to Dundee marks a milestone in the city’s ambitious waterfront redevelopment.
The opening was celebrated with the 3D Festival – named after Dundee, Design and the city’s Discovery ship. Festivities began on Friday night by the waterfront in Slessor Gardens, with Scottish rock band Primal Scream headlining the show. Their performance was followed by a mesmerising light show projected on the grey, angular walls of the V&A building. Glaswegian artist Jim Lambie was the mastermind behind the display, which had the dazzling, eerie reminiscence of sci-fi films like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. As the first patrons entered the museum’s doors on Saturday morning, Slessor Gardens hosted a variety of Dundonian musicians, stalls of local food and drink and hands-on arts and crafts. During the day, The Beano children’s comic, published in Dundee, broke a world record when 650 festivalgoers entered their competition to finish a comic strip. Competitors were invited to finish the V&A inspired comic and the winner, yet to be announced, will have their artwork displayed at the museum alongside the Guinness World Records certificate.
Dundee is the UK’s first UNESCO city of design and the V&A Dundee is the first design museum in Scotland, featuring 300 pieces with Scottish connections specially selected by V&A curators from their London vaults. The collection features an array of creative delights, including tweed designed by Vivienne Westwood, a costume worn by Natalie Portman in ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones’, iconic computer games created by the city’s game industry and an early medieval illuminated manuscript, ‘The Book of Hours’. Perhaps the most exciting exhibit of all is the Oak Room, a panelled tearoom designed in 1907 by Glaswegian artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh and unseen by the public in over 50 years. The opening exhibition ‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’ showcases the design, glamour and cultural influence of ocean liners within 20th Century modernity. Featuring a salvaged wooden deckchair from The Titanic and a portion of wooden panelling from its first-class lounge, the exhibit is a slice of golden-age history.
Kengo Kuma, the award-winning Japanese architect behind the sharp, ship-like structure, explained how he desired to create ‘a living room for the city’ housed in a structure inspired by the rugged form of Scottish cliffsides. Kuma wanted to rebuild a relationship between the river Tay and the people of Dundee, developing new architectural technologies to produce organic forms layered in concrete crags. The result is a building with magnificent presence, with light and shadow playing on each line and angle, revealing new twists and turns with every glance. A central spot, Kuma’s vision of a passage cave, invites you to move within the architecture while admiring a view of the river and beyond that often goes unappreciated.
Dundee has reaffirmed its position on the map since the investment of the museum. Recently earning 6th place in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Europe 2018 Top 10 List’, the city has also been hailed ‘Scotland’s coolest city’ by the Wall Street Journal. Less than 90 minutes away by bus or train, Dundee is the buzzing, creative neighbour Aberdeen never knew it wanted. It houses a plethora of cultural attractions, including Dundee Contemporary Arts, a one-stop hub of indie film, art workshops, galleries, craft beer and delicious food. The McManus Art Gallery and Museum hosts historic treasures, natural history exhibits and a unique collection of artworks from various styles and periods. Culture is nestled among a thriving network of local restaurants and bars including the atmospheric George Orwell, the eclectic Art Bar and the secret, speakeasy bar Draffens. V&A Dundee will draw us to the city, but Dundee’s home-grown, artistic charms will keep us coming back for more.