Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Postmodernism at the V&A

Just been to Postmodernism at the V&A. It's a remarkable and wonderful exhibition. I've never seen that not-altogether-easy space so well used - with the the giant quotations, the giant screens, the giant  columns, and some very over-sized (and thus Postmodern) artefacts. The labels are beautifully written and really explain what Postmodernisn was and (mainly) wasn't, and they are presented in such an engaging way - I won't spoil the surprise by saying how. And the exhibits are intriguing, funny, clever and, some of them, really gorgeous. Don't miss it!

BUT  I have one tiny grouse. Postmodernism has had a vast influence on design in the high street. In partnership with plastics, it has probably done more than anything else to make our homes colourful and quirky. The exhibition gives us household names in terms of music - you can hear Blondie, David Bowie and Culture Club - so why not show us some of the everyday affordable designs that have been the movement's legacy? There is a little top-end and, even-when-new, very expensive Alessi but I couldn't, for example, spot any cheaper Koziol,  and, while plenty of space is devoted to Michael Graves, his work for the more popular end of the market, for example for Target, is nowhere to be seen.

There was a slight feeling of the exhibition running out of steam as you turn the last corner or two. Could one of those smaller spaces just before you reach the shop not have shown us the stuff we buy that only looks the way it does because postmodernism happened? The V&A did street fashion successfully (if controversially) in Street Style some decade and half ago; is it still resistant to such an approach in terms of product design? Must every artefact have a known designer? Does significant design have to be expensive? And what about things that need power to work? We were shown some prototypes by, was it, Mendini or De Lucchi? They were probably never made but plenty showing the influence of these designers and Memphis more broadly were. The V&A even has such a pink and mauve machine: the very first Dyson vacuum cleaner to hit the market, as it happens in Japan, where it sold for over £1000.

Susan Lambert
Head of the Musem of Design in Plastics

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