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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

V&A says goodbye to music

Its seems that the V&A plans to disperse its musical instrument collection. One of the advantages of major museum like the V&A having a collection of instruments is the serendipity of it, people can wander in without having planned to see them. I can well remember my childhood visits to the museum and being delighted at being able to see and hear the instruments. Also, as a museum of decorative arts, the instruments themselves are often of decorative interest as well. Gems include Elizabeth I's Virginals, a recorder (of ivory and tortoiseshell) which belonged to Rossini and two pianos owned and decorated by Burne-Jones.

The gallery is in need of refurbishment and I imagine that the collection itself might require a bit of investment. Instead of doing this, they plan to move part of the collection to the Horniman Museum (which has an excellent collection already), with the rest either going into store or being placed with other museums. This is on a par with the other reference collections in the museum, which generally seem to be either being played down or put into storage. The V&A is frankly running out of space and their drive to modernise and include more contemporary decorative arts, whilst entirely worthy, is meaning that bits and pieces are being squeezed.

The Horniman Museum is an entirely loveable and admirable institution, but it already has an overflowing collection of musical instruments (including its own holdings as well as the Dolmetsch collection). Also, it is in South East London, hardly well placed to attract lots of tourists. We need a musical collection in one of the National Museums.

The problem is that, in a museum of Decorative Arts, the musical instrument gallery looks a little out of place. You can understand collections of lace, pottery or iron-work. But the interest in the musical gallery was never completely decorative. In stead of bemoaning the instruments removal from the V&A perhaps we should be campaigning for their home in another more suitable museum. How about the Theatre Museum, oh I forgot, the V & A canned that one as well and have an etiolated version at South Kensington. Perhaps the Tate should make space for the gallery in their latest carbuncle at Bankside.

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