De­sign mu­seum is Dundee’s gain and Glas­gow’s loss

The Herald Magazine - - Arts OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

THERE have been few cul­tural press con­fer­ences in the Scot­land of re­cent mem­ory quite like Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s be­fore the press view of the open­ing exhibitions at the V&A Dundee. In front of the for­est of TV and video cam­eras, unoc­cu­pied seats were few and far be­tween for those of us who reached the des­ig­nated room just as di­rec­tor Philip Long got to his feet. The re­al­i­sa­tion of Kengo Kuma’s re­mark­able build­ing as Scot­land’s first ded­i­cated mu­seum of de­sign at­tracted in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion as well as com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age from the me­dia at home.

There was, as is manda­tory th­ese days, much talk of part­ner­ship as well as great em­pha­sis on the local ini­tia­tive be­hind the nar­ra­tive of the cre­ation of the gallery, so it was slightly odd that no one from the Univer­sity of Dundee, cred­ited by all with ini­ti­at­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, was among the speak­ers.

It was also pe­cu­liar to hear so much em­pha­sis placed on what the V&A Dundee is not. Long was adamant that he was not run­ning “an out­sta­tion of Lon­don”, while the man now in charge of the brand’s South Kens­ing­ton HQ, Tris­tram Hunt, de­clared it was “not a branch of­fice”. Quite what its sta­tus is with re­gard to ac­cess to the vast col­lec­tion of the V&A, from which the 12,000 objects iden­ti­fied as hav­ing “a Scot­tish con­nec­tion” are rep­re­sented by 200 on dis­play, re­mained un­clear, although a de­gree of cu­ra­to­rial as well as ad­min­is­tra­tive au­ton­omy was cer­tainly im­plied.

What the V&A Dundee also is not, of course, is any­thing to do with the Na­tional Gal­leries of Scot­land (NGS), although that term “out­sta­tion” may well have orig­i­nated in Long’s mind there, where it was once part of the cor­po­rate vo­cab­u­lary. It was in the last decade of the last cen­tury that the Na­tional Gal­leries, then un­der the lead­er­ship of Sir Ti­mothy Clif­ford, be­gan to talk about es­tab­lish­ing a new Na­tional Gallery of Art and De­sign, for which the city of Glas­gow made an au­da­cious bid, point­ing out that there was no rea­son why all the NGS ac­tiv­ity should be con­cen­trated in the cap­i­tal. A pro­tracted bid­ding process pit­ted Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow against one an­other, and the smart money – although per­haps not the stuff in the deep­est pock­ets – was on Glas­gow, which of­fered sites in­clud­ing the Old Sher­iff Court on In­gram Street, the Post Of­fice on George Square and a leafy lo­ca­tion in Kelv­in­grove Park, as well as the com­pelling case that Scot­land’s ma­jor in­dus­trial cen­tre had nur­tured the lion’s share of the nation’s rep­u­ta­tion in ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign as well as cur­rently be­ing home to the most ac­claimed con­tem­po­rary artists.

Af­ter many re­ports and lengthy con­sul­ta­tion, the idea of a Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery of Art and De­sign came to noth­ing and the NGS in­stead de­vel­oped the Dean Gallery, now styled SNGMA2, in Belford Road, op­po­site the ex­ist­ing Gallery of Mod­ern Art. It opened un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a man who had been in­ti­mately in­volved in the whole story of the un­fold­ing pos­si­bil­ity of a new NGS gallery, one Philip Long. Two decades or so down the line, he has ended up in charge of the na­tional gallery of de­sign that many thought Scot­land should have, on the other side of the coun­try from where many thought it should have been.

There is no deny­ing that Dundee is at the cut­ting edge of de­sign in cer­tain ar­eas in this dig­i­tal age, and that its dra­matic new gallery is the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of cul­tur­ally-led re­gen­er­a­tion there that per­haps puts Glas­gow’s stalled jour­ney down the same road to shame, but it also re­mains to be seen whether the V&A Dundee at­tracts the numbers that such a gallery in the much big­ger city might have done. One thing is for sure, though: Glas­gow’s loss is Dundee’s gain.

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