Victoria & Albert Museum

Alan Borg—a safe choice for the Victoria and Albert Museum

Medievalist director of the Imperial War Museum, an able fund-raiser, chosen by the Trustees

One of the most important posts in the museum world, the directorship of the Victoria and Albert Museum, has gone to Alan Borg, fifty-three year-old director of London’s Imperial War Museum.

News of the appointment, effective from 1 October, was anxiously awaited, not just in Britain, by professionals and art lovers who feel that the V&A, the top museum of decorative arts but with other major collections besides, has fallen prey to creeping bureaucratisation and has lost its sense of identity under the eight-year directorship of Elizabeth Esteve-Coll.

The announcement was made last month by Lord Armstrong, Chairman of the Trustees and former head of the Civil Service, and undoubtedly a strong influence on the selection committee which consisted of six trustees, the director of the Ashmolean Museum, Christopher White, and the Permanent Secretary of the Department of National Heritage, Hayden Phillips. The forty-eight original candidates were whittled down to four: Edmund Capon, director of the gallery of New South Wales; Timothy Stevens, the present deputy director of the V&A; Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, and Alan Borg. The five-year, renewable appointment (salary £75,000-80,000) has been approved by the Prime Minister.

The choice of Dr Borg is a safe one for the trustees. Alan Borg has been an efficient, low-profile director of an institution whose mission—an uncomfortable one in these anti-militaristic times—he has lucidly redefined to be a social history of wartime. He is a good fund-raiser, which the V&A, with its £31 million ($49 million) budget (compared to the Metropolitan Museum’s $100 million for a comparable sized institution) badly needs, and he has increased attendance at his museum from 157,000 in 1981 to 1,026,000 in 1994 by making it fun for the family—one of the attractions is “The Blitz experience” where visitors pay extra to sit in an air-raid shelter and be shaken by the bombs exploding around them. At the same time, noone need fear that he will impose Disney-style displays on the V&A. His curatorial credentials are sound as he is a Courtauld-educated medievalist who has been a university lecturer, a curator at the Royal Armouries and the first curator of the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, East Anglia.