'No sketching': V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for

  • 2016-04-26
  • The Guardian

Stealthily photographing someone’s knickers might normally get you arrested, but everyone’s at it in the V&A. A ban on photography in the museum’s new exhibition, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, means the gallery is full of people furtively trying to snap pictures of pants when the guards aren’t looking. Sneaky museum Instagramming never felt so naughty.But photography’s not the only no-no in this lineup of lingerie. If you thought you could get away with a quick sketch of that Victorian whalebone corset or the butt-lifting boxers, think again: the museum has introduced a ban on drawing too.

When I tweeted a picture on Thursday of the officious sign that stands at the entrance to the gallery, declaring “No photography or sketching”, it was met with collective grasps of incredulity.

“Is this a late April Fools?” asked one. “How has any artist learned from the past other than through study and facsimile?” Another responded: “No memorising anything you see. Approved memories can be purchased in the gift shop.”

But it transpires that the draconian rule, which was first introduced for the blockbusting David Bowie exhibition in 2013, has nothing to do with protecting intellectual property. A drawing, however realistically executed with the finest charcoal pencil, does not constitute a breach of copyright. Instead, according to a V&A spokesperson, it is to do with preventing congestion and the strict loan agreements the museum signs for each new exhibition.

Allowing students to stand in front of exhibits for hours on end, as they lovingly craft an image of that 1950s Playtex rubber girdle in their sketchbooks, just doesn’t allow the conveyor belt of visitors to flow fast enough. So what next? A ban on wheelchairs and prams because they take up too much space too?