For better or for worse, museums tend to be behind the times, arbitrating culture from some kind of temporal remove. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is attempting to minimize that gap with a newly announced initiative called Rapid Response Collecting.
Rapid Response Collecting — which has the urgent-sounding title of a first-aid program for museums — is, according to the press release, the V&A’s “new approach to collecting contemporary design and architecture. … This new strategy will help the V&A engage in a timely way with important events that shape, or are shaped by design, architecture and technology.” That means collecting all sorts of symbolic, associative items that reflect those important events, like …. Katy Perry–endorsed fake eyelashes?!
Yeah, I have no idea either.
To be fair, other items for the new program do seem like smart choices — the world’s first 3D-printed gun, for instance. There’s also a pair of Primark jeans, which the museum says encapsulate the story of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as well as the complicated geopolitics of 21st-century clothing manufacturing more broadly. I can’t help wondering if a single pair of brand-name jeans can successfully tell that story, but at least there’s a thoughtful logic to the acquisition.
Still other objects seem speculative, like a sample of KONE UltraRope, “a new lightweight lift cable … [that] will enable lifts to travel 1000 metres in a single run, potentially transforming city skylines as buildings get slimmer and higher.” It’s one thing for museums to try and stay contemporary; it’s another for them to make predictions for the future, and endorse a product in the process.
It’s great that a huge, historical museum like the V&A wants to engage with the present in such a tangible way, but what’s been announced about Rapid Response Collecting so far seems like a random jumble more than an articulated vision. Hopefully the curators will pull everything together in a more meaningful way in the permanent museum gallery dedicated to the program, which opens to the public July 5.