Much of the most interesting and innovative contemporary design comes in small runs and is eye-wateringly expensive. Not so much of a problem if you are an oil baron or mineral multibillionaire. More of a problem if you're a cash-strapped public institution determined to collect and show contemporary design, as points out Jana Scholze, curator of contemporary furniture and product design at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. 'The market for experimental, limited-edition pieces is really strong,' she says, 'which has made it really difficult for us to collect that kind of design.'
This month's V&A Design Fund dinner, the third such event, goes a long way toward solving that problem. The Design Fund to Benefit the V&A was set up by expert fundraiser Yana Peel in 2011, after a push in that direction from London Design Festival director Ben Evans, with the aim of raising £100,000 a year from private patrons to fund new acquisitions. The design world's great and good, from Wallpaper* contributor and doyenne of design critics Alice Rawsthorn to designer Ron Arad, gathered at the V&A to break bread, admire the Amanda Levete-designed napkin rings and pledge their support in hard cash.
During the dinner Peel, in turn, praised the V&A's devotion to contemporary design. 'This growing commitment is seen throughout the museum,' she said. 'It's seen in the new section called Contemporary Architecture, Product Design and Digital, led by the celebrated curator and critic Kieran Long. It's seen in the newly opened furniture gallery that critics say has set "a new standard for bringing the collection to life".'
The latest acquisitions backed by the fund will be shown at this year's London Design Festival, which has made the V&A its spiritual home. 'What makes the V&A so special is that its design collection spans hundreds of years,' says Evans. 'Good collections evolve and change. We want to ensure that continues with a dedicated fund for contemporary design. In years to come we hope that the fund has acquired for the museum a sizeable collection that will be recognised as important in its own right.'
V&A director Martin Roth sees the fund as key to the museum's efforts to lead the debate around contemporary design: 'With the help of the Design Fund, we are placing more emphasis on collecting contemporary design objects
that exemplify current trends and innovations,' he says. 'We must continue to inform and inspire, attract new partners for debate and dialogue, and bring fresh ideas to the fore. We need to engage with a wider audience through social media and our public programme.'
Roth also identified Long and the new Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital team as key to attracting this wider audience. 'You might say that Kieran and his team are the V&A's think tank, looking into new and exciting ways to engage with the collection and our audience, in particular on the topics of architecture/urbanism and product/digital design. We will also have great opportunities to display these objects in the V&A and beyond - from Dundee to Brazil to China.'
Last year's acquisitions include the 'Wooden Heap' drawer unit by Swiss designer Boris Dennler; 'Sofa_XXXX' by Japanese designer Yuya Ushida; and both a mould and finished version of Joris Laarman 's 'Bone Chaise'.