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V&A teams up with San Francisco

Both museums are taking the international route

London

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London (V&A) and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have signed a five-year agreement to offer each other “preferential status” for travelling shows.

Asked why a formal agreement had been drawn up, San Francisco director John Buchanan Jr responded: “Things that one puts in writing and codifies stay on one’s radar screen longer than something in the hip pocket.” The accord was reached relatively quickly, after Mr Buchanan started discussions with V&A director Mark Jones last March.

Three V&A shows have already gone to San Francisco (“A Grand Design”, “Art Deco” and “International Arts and Crafts”), although so far none have travelled in the other direction. The V&A’s “Vivienne Westwood”, seen in London in 2004 (and currently in Thailand), will now go to the de Young Museum next February. San Francisco’s “Victorian Avant-Garde: Whistler, Godwin and the Aesthetic Movement” is to open in San Francisco in 2008 and travel to the V&A in 2010.

There will also be exchanges of works of art, including a display of the V&A’s “Medieval and Renaissance treasures”, which is to open in San Francisco in late 2007. This will comprise items that are off show in London during refurbishment of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Under the accord, San Francisco is to “underwrite conservation costs” of collection-sharing projects. Exchanges of staff are also expected.

V&A director Mark Jones said that agreements with international partners do represent a change. “We do not have the ambition to be a Guggenheim, with V&As around the world, but we want to be a global museum, occupying a particular niche, presenting art and design. We want to work out long-term relationships with a handful of museums internationally.”

San Francisco has a similar attitude, and the deal with the V&A follows an agreement with the Israel Antiquities Authority in May. The Israelis are to provide an exhibition of “Mosaics from the Holy Land”, which will include a new-excavated 3rd-century Roman mosaic recently discovered at Lod. Antiquities from Israel will also be shown in a rotating display in San Francisco. Finally, a landmark loan has been agreed of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and this is to be the first time that they will leave Israel for an extended period. San Francisco’s next formal accord is likely to be with the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.