Great Exhibition event ‘relevant’ because of Brexit, says leading arts figure

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A print showing a view of the Great Exhibition by J McNeven (Victoria and Albert Museum/PA)

A recreation of the Great Exhibition is still significant today because of Brexit, according to a leading figure in the arts world.

Spearheaded by Prince Albert, the 1851 event is referred to as the world’s first international display of design and manufacturing.

The Great Exhibition Road Festival in June is set to replicate the vision of the Prince and Queen Victoria, 200 years on from when they were born.

Sir Christopher Frayling will speak at the Great Exhibition Road Festival (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Sir Christopher Frayling will speak at the Great Exhibition Road Festival (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Sir Christopher Frayling, a former Arts Council chairman, labelled the event “relevant” because of discussions concerning the UK post-Brexit.

“I think it started out to show to the world how brilliant we were post-industrial revolution and we got a hell of a shock,” he said.

“There’s a series of books that were written at the time of lessons of the Great Exhibition and they say, ‘look, we’ve got to pull our socks up’, the Americans are getting very good at industrial design, the Germans are brilliant at engineering.

“It’s rather like the discussions today about can Britain go it alone or are we part of a global network.

“In a way, the legacy of that exhibition was a realisation that isolation was no longer possible, we have to take into account what everyone else is doing.”

The former Rector of the Royal College of Art will discuss the creation of the V&A at the festival, whose origins lie in the exhibition.

South Kensington’s Exhibition Road, named after the event, will be transformed, with Imperial College London, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall among others collaborating over the three days.

Sir Christopher said: “The festival basically says Albert lives.

“It’s not looking back in a cobwebby way at the past, it’s saying that the great thing about that vision of 1851 is that it lives.

“He’s created institutions which are at the cutting edge of research and practice in those areas and it’s great that they can lift the curtain and show the public what’s going on.”

The Great Exhibition Road Festival will run from June 28 to 30.

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