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Victoria & Albert Museum

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The famed Victoria & Albert Museum, set in the heart of England's capital is the largest decorative-arts museum in the world. The V&A—as it is popularly known—is in many respects the greatest treasure store in Britain. With some 4 million objects in its possession, it boasts 145 galleries and seven miles of corridors. It holds some of the best pieces of all periods, in all styles and from all parts of the globe.

But the V&A is not just a museum for antiques. It was conceived as a repository for anything and everything that might be of help to designers of the future, and it contains decorative arts from practically every conceivable discipline, taste and era. Virtually since its inception, the museum has grown ever larger, covering an enormous area, and visitors have been getting lost in its maze of galleries ever since.

At the urging of the queen's consort, Prince Albert, the museum was started in 1852 on the creative momentum stimulated by the Great Exhibition of 1851. Over 6 million people had been to the Crystal Palace to marvel at treasures from around the world. Profit from the ticket sales was huge and the museum was founded on the proceeds. Many pieces were purchased from the Exhibition to start the collection, and it was hoped that the "Museum of Manufactures" would have a continuing inspirational effect on British manufacturers.

Having begun at Marlborough House in the center of London, the museum was moved in 1857 to an iron building known as the Brompton Boilers, where the collection was given the name the Victoria and South Kensington Museum. In 1899, Queen Victoria laid the cornerstone of the museum's present building, designed by Aston Webb, and renamed the Victoria & Albert Museum, in honor of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who had left her widowed in 1861. It was to be her final public appearance.

Today, the V&A is at work on a new building, designed by Daniel Liebeskind, to be fitted into the one remaining plot of land on the museum's main 11-acre site. It is to be entirely different from the structures that surround it, which seems appropriate considering the mission of the V&A has always been to educate and surprise. The museum must judge what is going to be important and interesting to study in the future, and thus it must continue to buy in its own time, to collect "the now." Visitors will therefore find collections of perhaps shockingly every-day things—vacuum cleaners, sneakers, watches—an almost numberless array of familiar domestic objects, all of which are already important pieces of design history.

To learn more about the Victoria & Albert Museum, visit: www.vam.ac.uk



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