London’s V&A modestly describes itself as “the world’s greatest museum of art and design” and I, for one, am not about to argue with that. As a child, I found it’s neighbours in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, completely fascinating., but the Victoria and Albert always seemed a little dusty and, frankly, quite dull.
Luckily both the V&A and myself grew up. It has moved on from just being a fantastic repository of the entire history of the decorative arts to a dynamic and constantly evolving, modern museum but, more importantly, it has done this without either dumbing down or losing its focus. As for me, well, I just grew older and slightly less stupid and I just love it.
It’s impossible to pick a single favourite piece from a collection of this size, but there are several items that I am always happy to stand and look at whenever I visit. The one I have chosen for this post is the Cinderella Table.
Designed and constructed during 2005/2006 it is the work of Jeroen Verhoeven. Conceived to explore the capabilities of CAD/CAM, that is, Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing, it is an extraordinary, complex and, importantly, repeatable piece of furniture.
Verhoeven took his inspiration from the classical forms of the 17th and 18th century. In this case a commode (no, not the chair/chamber pot combo of this century) and a side table. After entering his simplified 2D drawings into a computer, he set about combining the two items into a single organic 3D form.
It took him 3 months to achieve the final shape which was then sliced into 57 virtual slices. These were then carved into shape by a 5 axis CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling machine. Each of the 80mm thick, birch ply, pieces was cut from the back and the front to copy all of the curves and undercuts of the original design. Finally, the individual slices were joined together and the whole thing finished by hand. The milling and final finishing were carried out by the Rotterdam company Demakersvan.
It truly is a thing of beauty. At the same it seems to be intensely complex and stunningly simple. There is no decoration apart from the lines of the birch ply which appear to swirl over the surface. It is sensational, sensuous and sexy…………..and I want one!
The V&A example is number 2 of an edition of 20.Several other museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, have examples of this table in their collections which is an indication of the importance of the design in the development of design and construction. An example was sold by Sotheby’s in New York in 2006. It went for $42,000.………so it seems unlikely that I’m ever going to get one!
Finally, this design has also been reproduced in white carrara marble. An edition of 6 were produced in 2008, they are a stunning technical achievement and wonderous to look at, but if I had the choice I would chose a birch ply example every time. Oh well, at least I can dream.
The Cinderella Table is in room 76, part of the Twentieth Century Gallery.