Mary Dejevsky: Do art galleries really need so much space?


Related Topics

The arts world is agog to learn who will be chosen to design the grand new entrance and underground exhibition complex for London's venerable Victoria & Albert Museum. The shortlist, which includes many luminaries of the global architecture scene, was finalised in January, and the winner is to be announced in the coming week. After a more ambitious project – Daniel Libeskind's contentious Spiral – was aborted seven years ago, it's probably fair to say that whichever design is chosen it will err on the side of classical and discreet. My concern is different. I just wonder who really needs the extra 1,500m2 – except the space- and-status-hungry museum itself?

It may be that in retrospect the 20 years from 1995 will be regarded as a golden age for British galleries, what with the reworking of the Great Court of the British Museum and its planned extension; the new building approved for Tate Modern; a host of new galleries at the V&A; the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum across the road, and oh so very many more. All this activity must be a tribute to the National Lottery and the much-maligned charitable instincts of corporate Britain, not to mention the contributions of the British public.

Yet I return to the question. Who needs that much more space? Is it really an adornment, or is it becoming a liability? Think of the visitor!

One of our earliest marital spats saw the pair of us sitting pretty much back to back in a bright white space at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and glowering. A cartoon rendition would have had his speech bubble saying: "It's just too big and too much. I've had enough masterpieces for one day", and mine would have said: "But this may be the only time in my life that I'm here and I want to see absolutely everything."

Since then, we've been through several mini-replays of that scene, albeit with rather more give and take on either side. He contentedly agrees to sit and wait; I – with equal contentment – agree to let him. Our paths diverged most recently last autumn at the splendid National Germanic Museum in Nuremberg. Elegantly and fastidiously refurbished as only the Germans know how, the museum is a glory. But on the size question, I found myself starting to sympathise with my other half.

On my way to the rather modest suite of galleries dealing with inter-war period I got lost and passed several times through a gallery of stringed instruments occupying the space of about three football pitches. I'm not completely uninterested in stringed instruments – I'm actually saving up for a clavichord – but there did seem an enormous number of them.

For the true cognoscenti, each one doubtless justifies its space, but I can't help asking whether more rigorous editing might also be in order. At least some of the new space in London museums is for educational purposes – as though this needs (often very generous) accommodation separate from the collections. The British Museum extension is intended, as I understand, to house temporary "blockbuster" exhibitions. Other new spaces are used to expand the proportion of the museum's holdings that are on display.

Speaking for the visitor, though, there comes a time when your feet are sore, you've seen your fill of treasures, and you want to trust the specialists to display the best of the best. I'm not among those who turn up their noses at the big galleries, swearing instead by the Wallace Collection or the Frick, but even the diligent can have too much self-improvement. Quality and acreage are not the same thing.

Plane politics won't help our economy take off

I'm as appreciative of adroit political "spin" as the next person. You became a bit of an expert if you lived through the Blair/Campbell years. But the present Chancellor deserves the award of the Westminster Whip and Top (first class) for this one.

Among the morsels tossed to the Sunday papers was the news that the Air Passenger Tax would be frozen. This, we were told, was a concession to "hard-working families" or the "squeezed middle" or whatever the desired demographic is supposed to be. So what a few months before had been a lament about "family" holidays going up by a "whopping" £150 or so – which actually only applied if four people were travelling to another continent, rather contradicting the notion of a squeezed middle – became a family-friendly sigh of relief. Then yesterday, oh bliss, it was disclosed that the Chancellor would explore ways of taxing flights on private jets. As a populist blow for social justice against tax-exiles, bankers and the otherwise super-rich, it was a stroke of genius. I do wonder, though, just how much money it will bring in.

An Aussie who knows sport and politics don't mix

At the ripe old age of 34, Mark Webber has become a bit of an international pin-up. But it's less his looks that have impressed me than the streak of independent thought the Australian driver has evinced recently.

When the first political protests erupted in Bahrain, a matter of weeks before the scheduled Bahrain Grand Prix, Webber was the first in the world of racing, driver or executive, to argue that the event should be called off. While Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One CEO, said that the decision rested with the Crown Prince, Webber said this: "When you hear of people losing their lives, this is a tragedy... It's probably not the best time to go there for a sporting event. They have bigger things, bigger priorities." Indeed.

He's right about something else as well. While Ecclestone and others have proposed artificial weather to liven up proceedings on the track, Webber has ridiculed the idea of sprinklers and hoses; admitting to being "a purist", he said "absolutely not". With the postponement of the Bahrain race earlier this month, Sunday's Australian Grand Prix opens the season. Let's wish the Red Bull driver clement weather – and may all the rain in Melbourne be natural.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own