The V&A's new Chinese outpost: an oasis of calm in a kitsch jumble

By Oliver Wainwright

Wedged between a landlocked cruise liner and gothic apartment blocks, the V&A's first international foothold, built in the cradle of the new China, is more luxury mall than magical museum

A fake iPhone is on display next to a mobile designed for the elderly in the V&A's new outpost in Shenzhen, southern China, the first overseas branch in the museum's history, which opens on Saturday. Both phones were made nearby, one the product of the region's many counterfeit factories, the other developed by a young local designer with an enlarged keypad and SOS button. It might look like a simple moral pairing of the bad copy vs the good innovation, until you learn that the knock-off iPhone was also an improvement on the original: it features a double SIM-card slot, essential for the many people who shuttle between Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

“We wanted to show that the ‘copycat China' stereotype isn't as black and white as people might think,” says Brendan Cormier, curator of the V&A's inaugural exhibition, Values of Design, which sees 250 items loaned from the London institution's collection for the next two years, including a handful of new contemporary Chinese acquisitions. “Shenzhen has gone from being a place where things are simply made, to a centre of innovation where these truly disruptive products are being designed.”

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