A Sunny Day in London

The weather has changed. It is warm enough for people to walking about with their coats flapping open and scarves worn hanging down instead of wrapped around their noses. Yesterday, all the clouds seem to be circulating to the North. I was out twice, once on Kensington High Street running errands, buying light bulbs, gloves, socks , and champagne truffles, then, in the afternoon, I decided to indulge my fancy for the sumptuous Victoria & Albert Museum.

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It is three blocks to the Old Brompton Rd. where I catch a C1 bus that takes me practically to the door. It was a jerky ride at 3 p.m., taking 15 instead of 10 minutes, but I was luckily seated next to a chatty woman my age who, besides settling impending war matters and predicting good summer weather, told me of a restaurant (Café du Fred) on Earl’s Court Rd. almost at Kensington High Street that serves freshly made food, and wonderful fish pie on (I think) Tuesday. But never mind, this post I about art and design.
What I saw

The only way I can face the V&A is with a brief agenda, as there are too many fascinating surprises, and one quickly feels dizzy inside the monumental building. I had one thing in mind as I walked in the door, the medieval rooms. 

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Those just to the right of the entrance display church architectural artifacts circa 1500-1600. The labels I paid attention to all indicated the exhibits were Italian. I sat before a colorful altarpiece from the Church of Santa Maria del Stella and listened to a recording of two sacred hymns inspired by that image. It took all of eight minutes, and the Latin was translated on a little screen. With opportunities like this, one quickly gets over the idea that there are germs on a public earphone best to be avoided. I found out the music can be downloaded from the V&A website.
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My professor husband is working on medieval manuscripts of an earlier period in England. The 1400-1500 displays are beneath the ground floor in a sort of undercroft setting, but I decided to wait until he was with me to look at those. Instead, I passed through the soft-lit and calming Korean, Japanese, and Chinese galleries to the gift shop to look at the sale scarves again – and decided happily that the wool ones I had my eyes on would be too warm from now on. I walked toward the exit, and decided this time to venture into the Jameel Prize exhibition just off the foyer.
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On the wall to the left of the entrance to this gallery is a most annoying electronic image that rotates, shrinks and expands. I remember it from some time ago, and as it gave me no clue as to the nature of the annual Jameel event, I had shunned it. This time I took a chance, and found an amazing array of works chosen from submissions by artists and designers inspired by the Islamist tradition.

Florie Salnut (France) has found a way for Kenyan women to make a living by weaving “plastic gold” into elaborate jewelry. The material is thin flexible wire made from discarded plastic bottles.

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Pascal Zogbi (Lebanon), designing Arabic fonts, put together a massive collage to dazzle the eye. 

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Mournier Fatmi (Morocco), with similarly graphic sensitivity, projected an animated “machine” that represents “Modern Times” in a dystopian city. The moving mural emits music from somewhere behind the wall that serves as the screen. It was wonderful to walk back and forth under it.

This year’s Jameel prize went to a sisterly collaboration called Dice Kayek (Turkey), who constructed fanciful dresses that look to me like angels, especially as they seem to hover in the large glass case.

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I was out of the museum and on Cromwell Rd. by five o’clock, my senses saturated. What a gift this cultural venue is for everyone who discovers it.
www.vam.ac.uk

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