Can a museum save a town?

The V&A Dundee museum (left and above) is designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The V&A Dundee museum (above) is designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
The V&A Dundee museum (left and above) is designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The V&A Dundee museum (above) is designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

Curators of the first offshoot of London's Victoria and Albert Museum hope it will transform Dundee

DUNDEE (Scotland) • Dennis may be a Menace and a bully, but the town of Dundee in Scotland is now counting on him for survival.

Original storyboards from Dundee's own Beano children's comic, featuring Dennis the Menace in his characteristic striped jumper, are among the artefacts displayed in design museum V&A Dundee, which opens today.

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who is designing Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium, has created an £80-million (S$143-million) structure that resembles two hulls sitting side by side on the banks of the River Tay in a nod to Dundee's long history of shipbuilding.

Its concrete walls are covered in panels of grey rough stone to recall a craggy Scottish cliff and an arch between the twin edifices links the road to the river - a reflection of Mr Kuma's goal to reconnect the city with the sea.

The first offshoot of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum outside London houses treasures such as a salvaged tearoom designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a dazzling Cartier tiara with moving wings.

Show business glamour is provided by a gown worn by actress Natalie Portman in the film Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (2002).

The museum's curators hope it will transform Dundee, around an hour's journey north of Edinburgh, into a must-see destination for tourists and art lovers the same way the Spanish port city of Bilbao was transformed by its titanium Guggenheim Museum.

"It is a cultural milestone for Dundee and a landmark moment for the history of the V&A, an important opportunity for the United Kingdom to show the world how design can enrich lives," said Mr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A in London.

The original V&A in the British capital - named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design.

Dundee's history is steeped in seafaring, textiles and publishing. But in recent years, its decline has made it more well-known as the place in Britain with the highest proportion of drug-related deaths.

V&A Dundee is already changing its fate - tourist numbers have risen 10 per cent in the past year, said Dundee council leader John Alexander.

"Tangible benefits (from the museum) are a renewed confidence, a renewed sense of pride, a fire in the belly that wasn't there 10 years ago.

"For too long, we were seen as a poor relation compared with larger neighbouring cities," he noted.

The centre expects to receive 500,000 visitors in the next year, more than three times Dundee's population. "We are trying to address the social ills that face cities in western societies (and) the V&A is a core component of that," he told reporters at a news conference.

The idea for a museum came when officials at Dundee University invited former V&A director Mark Jones to take part in a £1-billion waterfront regeneration project 10 years ago.

Mr Hunt said V&A Dundee is "a truly international museum firmly rooted in local relevance... at a time of far too much inward-looking nationalism and parochialism".

"Museums can and do make a difference," he added.

And one can bet that Dennis is up for the fight, to draw visitors.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'Can a museum save a town?'. Print Edition | Subscribe