It was one of those urban ‘!?!?’ moments. I was leaving the V&A a couple of days ago when I saw this huge hoarding outside, advertising luxury apartments in the museum. For a moment I wondered whether the funding cuts had finally forced the V&A to convert some of its space into high-end accomodation. But I was in a rush and didn’t have time to investigate.
Today Deana Sidney (of LostPastRemembered) sent me this link to an article in the New York Times which explains everything. The artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have transformed the V&A’s former Textile Galleries into a site-specific, immersive installation.
Visitors can wander through the grand but slightly disheveled South Kensington apartment of the fictional Norman Swann, an elderly modernist architect. Presumably there is an intentional echo here of Charles Swann, the elderly dandy in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.
Swann’s apartment contains the remains of what appears to be an inherited family collection, as Chinese porcelain, Louis something furniture, ormolu candelabra and Victorian pictures mix with a 1950s Heal’s-style desk and a minimalist kitchen.
Was Swann the last of the family line? If he was a visionary modernist architect (‘Building for the masses’ proclaims a framed poster in his office), why did he hang on to his family memorabilia? There are indications that he is now broke and is selling up (hence the apartment being advertised for sale). Is this the end for him, or will he have a Proustian moment of temps retrouvé?
I am writing this without as yet having seen the installation, which I could justify by referring to Proust’s insight that what is imagined is so much more enchanting than what is experienced. But in fact I do hope to visit du côté de chez Swann very soon.