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V&A unveils designs and first major supporter for new Photography Centre

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has revealed the first visual of its new, state-of-the-art Photography Centre, and has announced its first major supporter for the project – The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation.

Designed by David Kohn Architects (DKA), the first phase of the V&A Photography Centre will more than double the display space dedicated to photography by Autumn 2018. It forms part of an ambitious two-phased FuturePlan development project to dramatically reimagine the display of the photographic collection at the V&A which includes the RPS Collection.

DKA’s design for the Photography Centre will celebrate the original features of the V&A’s nineteenth-century picture galleries, while creating a rich variation of atmosphere through the use of lighting, and clever climate control to ensure a stable environment for fragile artworks. A modular system of display cases that can be easily reconfigured will allow for greater flexibility and varied displays of a wide range of objects, from photographs to cameras, publications and archive materials, exploring the relationship between art and technology. DKA were chosen as the successful practice following an invited competition and submissions from a strong shortlist.

The newly released render gives a glimpse into one of the largest galleries within a suite of spectacular rooms to be dedicated to photography at the V&A. Previously referred to as Gallery 100, the original nineteenth-century picture gallery will be renamed ‘The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery’ in recognition of the generosity of The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation, the first major supporter of the Museum’s Photography Centre. The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery will be a pivotal space within the new Centre, featuring a programme of displays showcasing both the greatest historic treasures from the V&A collection and cutting-edge contemporary photography.

David Bickle, Director of Design, Exhibitions and FuturePlan at the V&A, said: “We were delighted with the quality and inventiveness of DKA’s submission for the V&A Photography Centre, which answered the brief in the most effective and creative way. DKA’s design fuses traditional gallery spaces with new interactive interventions that will completely revolutionise how visitors engage with the V&A’s photography collection. I’d like to thank The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation for its generous donation, which gets us one step closer to realising our ambitions.” David Kohn, Architect, said: “We are delighted to be working with the V&A and their curatorial team on this landmark project, not least because of my personal passion for photography. Our approach has been to offer visitors the widest range of ways to engage with this world-leading collection, framed by the stunning architecture of the refurbished galleries.”

Bernard Lee Schwartz (1914-1978), known as Bern, took up photography late in life with great dedication and dynamism. A successful American businessman, at the age of sixty he began taking pictures and flourished as a portrait photographer, depicting well-known figures from across the globe. Bern and his wife Ronny were regular visitors to the UK and admirers of Britain’s museums and art galleries. In his short but prolific career, Bern photographed more than two hundred leading political, religious and cultural figures. His varied subjects included artists David Hockney and Henry Moore, dancers Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, and royals Prince Charles and Louis Mountbatten. Bern’s 1978 portrait of Sir Roy Strong, Director of the V&A from 1973 to 1987, has recently entered the Museum as a gift to The American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation.

Michael Schwartz, son of Bern Schwartz and President of The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation commented: “The V&A has a world-class photography collection and the new Photography Centre, featuring a gallery devoted to the history of photography, will attract a vast international audience. We are delighted to help the Museum share this exceptionally rich resource. My parents considered London to be their second home and would have been thrilled to be a part of this project.

Further design details and new visuals for the V&A’s Photography Centre will be released later this year. Photographs from the V&A’s collection can be accessed by visitors in the Prints & Drawings Study Room. In addition to developing the Photography Centre, the Museum has upgraded its storage facilities to better house its photography collection. An extensive project to catalogue and digitise the recently transferred Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection is also underway to provide web access and research resources for audiences around the world. The V&A continues its programme of photographic exhibitions at the Museum, and other venues in the UK and overseas.

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