A vibrant, clever and fascinating tribute to the 1951 Festival of Britain, the ‘Museum of 51’at the Royal Festival Hall is one of this Summer’s must-see exhibitions, that is if you find yourself on London’s South Bank. Admission is free and it runs until Sunday 4th September 2011. The exhibition is at the heart of a wider programme of events and celebrations happening right along the South Bank to celebrate 60 years since the 1951 Festival took place there. The Festival of Britain had a number of themed exhibitions all over London, but the South Bank was its principal exhibition site. All that remains today of the original Festival is The Royal Festival Hall. The ‘Museum of 51’ exhibition is designed by Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway.
The 1951 Festival of Britain was an event designed to boost the morale of a struggling post-war Britain, be a celebration to mark the end of the Second World War and a practical exercise in urban-regeneration on the South Bank of the Thames, which had become a derelict slum. Oh, of course, there was also pressure to mark the anniversary of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition, which took place at Crystal Palace in 1851. The Skylon was the site’s most iconic symbol, a beacon of hope, rising into the air without any visible means of support. The makers of the Skylon described the structure as having “….no purpose, it’s not functional in any way, it does not light the festival, it burns with its own inner light. It’s not even a phallic symbol or totem pole…It has no social significance; it does not stand for democracy, freedom, progress or future happiness. It doesn’t stand at all!” At the base of the Skylon there were 30 sculptures and 50 murals.
The ‘Museum of 51’ exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the history and background of the original Festival. You can read oral history testimonies from those who remember or were involved with it, see Festival memorabilia, films, photographs and artworks. There is also a charming reconstruction of a 1950s themed room (see image at top), designed by BBC Homes and Antiques magazine which should prove a draw for all fans of retro and vintage trends.