V&A London, Frida Kahlo Exhibition

Date Complete 2018
Location UK England
Client V&A Museum London
Architect Gibson Thornley Architects

Project summary

The Victoria & Albert Museum of London ran an exhibition from June to November 2018 featuring the life and work of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The exhibition presented artefacts and clothing belonging to the artist, the first display of the collection outside of Mexico in the 50 years after her death. Displayed across a series of eight galleries within two separate spaces, Kahlo’s personal belongings were showcased in multiple configurations of cabinets and tables.

The spaces, 38 and 38a, were linked via double doors and separated by full height walls. Space 38 is vaulted with a ceiling height going from 10 to 12 m and an approximate volume of 3,200 m3, while space 38a has a ceiling height of 4 m and volume of 500 m3. The doors between both areas remained open during the exhibition to aid the flow of visitors between the galleries, forming one large exhibition space. Many of the eight galleries included audio elements such as speech, music and birdsong. With galleries opened to one another, the inevitability that there would be some natural sound bleed was taken into account. Sandy Brown were commissioned to provide acoustic design advice on several design elements with the intent to prevent unwanted sound bleed from one section to another, thereby achieving clarity of sound in each section.


Acoustic considerations by gallery

Several galleries featured sounds of her life and works ranging from her seminal Blue House garden (leaves, birds, crickets) all the way to recordings of Frida Kahlo’s voice. Directional speakers were recommended to contain sound spill towards the vaulted ceiling and the adjacent galleries. Selected galleries also contained audio visual elements such as screens with video, coupled with sounds of local instruments, church bells and wind chimes with some desired sound spill from the adjacent galleries.

The highlight of the penultimate gallery was the artist’s dresses displayed on a podium – the main feature of the exhibition, where sounds of the Blue House were also played. To control noise within the final gallery where the exit doors neighbour the museum giftshop, audio was not incorporated into the design of the room. Additionally, strategic placement of a display cabinet helped block noise from the shop when doors were open.