Dundee's V&A Scottish Design Galleries will highlight Scotland's contribution to design

Dundee's V&A Scottish Design Galleries will highlight Scotland's contribution to design

Ross Fraser McLean

Items in the gallery will include a 'Book of Hours' and the video game 'Beckett'

The first contents of the new V&A Museum of Design in Dundee have been revealed ahead of the building's opening in late 2018, with the identity of a number of objects which will be shown in the building's Scottish Design Galleries now released. Although the thirteen items seen so far are only a tiny fraction of the 300 objects which will be displayed in this permanent section of V&A Dundee when it opens, they indicate the strength of a commitment to show visitors the historic and contemporary breadth of Scotland's contribution to design.

'Scotland has the most remarkable, extraordinary and international design history,' said V&A Dundee director Philip Long at the launch event. 'It's part of our creativity, our enterprise, our innovation and our adaptability. V&A Dundee will celebrate that, and offer us a greater understanding of our past achievements, which I believe places us in a more confident position to realise our creative potential now and into the future.'

The items include what will be the oldest item in the gallery, a 'Book of Hours' (a bespoke prayer book) known as the 'Playfair Hours', which was made in Rouen in France around 1480, and sold in 1918 by its then-owner, Rev. Dr. Playfair of St. Andrews, into national ownership; while the most contemporary piece at the moment is the video game 'Beckett', as designed by Glasgow firm The Secret Experiment, which takes influence from the writing of Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs, and the films of Jan Svankmajer and Roman Polanski.

Dundee's V&A Scottish Design Galleries will highlight Scotland's contribution to design

credit: © V&A Dundee

Taking up 550 square metres of the gallery (the temporary exhibition spaces will extend to 11000 square metres), the Scottish Design collection is designed to cover three areas; unique examples of Scottish design, how items designed in Scotland impact our lives, and how designed items can be used to spark the imagination. The vast majority of the pieces are drawn from a vast catalogue of 12,000 objects with some Scottish connection which are held in the V&A's onsite and reserve collections in London; most have never been displayed in Scotland or anywhere else, and their use here is intended to bring into the light the story of Scottish design's development over time.

In telling this story, it's not just about looking at objects designed in Scotland, but about related items which tell a story directly linked to the country. For example, linoleum wasn't invented in Kirkcaldy, but the huge international success of the town's Nairn Floors factory throughout the 20th century is very relevantly revealed by an Eduardo Paolozzi-designed catalogue case made in the shape of an elephant from linoleum in 1972, while a model of the first bespoke Maggie's Centre in Dundee will also be on display, the first example of a building designed by the Canadian Frank Gehry in the UK.

The history of the North British Rubber Company on Edinburgh's Fountainbridge – founded in 1856, maker of trenchfoot-resisting boots for the front in the First World War, and precursor of the modern Hunter wellie boot – is also explored, while great Scottish icons are also represented in the original Forth Bridge and a Dennis the Menace strip from 1960. A relatively innocuous 18th century garter and Highland Pistol (the weapon which apparently fired the first shot of the American War of Independence) reveal how hidden political messages were designed in to items of the time, while an example of contemporary dress designer Holly Fulton's work tells its own story, a narrative based around the affair between the Duke of Westminster and Coco Chanel at the former's Scottish estate.

'It's been incredibly difficult to pin the display down to just 300 objects,' says Joanna Norman, lead curator of the Scottish Design Galleries, 'but I think what our months of research in the V&A archive has shown us is just how rich the design history of Scotland is and how many other things we could have chosen. The possibility of refreshing this exhibition in future, particularly with new contemporary content, will be very important.'

V&A Dundee opens in late 2018.

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