In March 2019, the V&A opened two new spaces in its British galleries: a display dedicated to exploring notions of Britishness through the lens of comedy, and a new ‘living room’ for the museum. We designed both in collaboration with the V&A Design Studio, graphic designers Studio Makgill and lighting designers DHA design.
Laughing Matters: The State of a Nation looks at the role of humour in debates around identity, empire and power over the past 200 years through costumes, props, photographs, film and television clips, and interviews with contemporary comedians. The gallery is organised into four thematic sections, each one with its own distinct colour scheme and arranged in a wall-mounted display of cellular cabinets that extend from each corner of the room. We were inspired by the Robert Adams bookcase in the V&A British galleries and 19th-century satirist George Cruickshank’s cartoon ‘The British Bee Hive’ to provide alcoves of different sizes for various display scales and strategies.
Celebrated British interior designer David Hicks was a major inspiration for our decoration and bold treatment of the gallery. His work – simultaneous with the late 1960s and the birth of the alternative comedy scene – suggests a particular blend of traditional values and modern invention, and is quintessentially British in its eccentricity.
We added a contemporary take on a traditional telephone table in the centre of the space to allow visitors to sit and listen to interviews with comedians through old-fashioned telephones while taking in the object displays in each corner of the room.
In the room directly above this display, we reinvigorated a former study area to create a museum living room with comfortable seating, toys, games, and plugs for phones and laptops. Alongside desks built at different heights for adults and children are puppets hidden behind doors with playful ‘peek a boo’ holes, and a mirror with comedy accessories. The space, which also features a sloped felt bank perfect for lounging and cushioned bleachers for sitting near plug-in points, has become a haven for visitors to relax and re-charge their batteries in the museum.
“To deliver this new permanent comedy display and study space within two prominent corners of the V&A’s British Galleries, we combined our in-house exhibition design experience with Aberrant’s playful and rigorous approach. These new spaces create a dramatic, fresh and fun departure from the traditional display techniques employed by the adjoining galleries and showcase a new model for both study and display spaces within the museum.”
Sam Brown, 3D Designer at the V&A Design Studio
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
V&A Museum, South Kensington, London