V&A Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990

Marion Hume | September 23rd, 2011

Images Courtesy of VA

London’s V&A keeps churning out the blockbusters, the latest of which - opened with a live performance by Annie Lennox (blimey, those vocal pipes are strong) - is Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 which starts with the poster; Grace Jonesas fantastically imagined by Jean Paul Goude and takes you through from the buildings of James Stirling to the early covers of The Face.

That James Stirling’s architecture was most famously built in Stuttgart says everything about the weird taste that kicked off the Postmodern era. Karl Lagerfeld gorged on Ettore Sottsass’s bobbly, bright “Memphis” furniture like a bulimic with a plate of cream cakes, then later sold the lot.

Postmodernism also included those kettles that were hard to hold and unspeakably ugly to look at. Yet when you see so much hideous furniture and housewares gathered together, somehow the legacy of these early experiments in breaking the barriers of taste garners importance.
Without them, would there have been Peter Saville’s sensational graphics for the album covers of New Order, or Neville Brody’s typography? Faced with the architectural drawings, you are reminded that Philip Johnson’s AT&T “Chippendale” building (of 1978, now known as Sony Tower) was extraordinarily eye-catching in its time.

Fashion-wise, the exhibition wisely circumvents the biggest movement happening in these years - Punk - (which was something else entirely), and nods instead to the outsized, holey, black Comme des Garcons sweater that I wanted nearly 30 years ago and seeing it again as a museum piece, I still want it. Visually, this exhibition is a treat; blasting the visitor with apocalyptic scenes from Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner before one is lead past chain-mail fences under a pulsing red light to see some of the costumes for the movie.

Where the exhibition is splendid is with the bit that is usually the most challenging in a museum context; the music of the era. Screens flicker with Steve Strange performing Fade to Grey, Devo, Kraftwerk and Neneh Cherry’s category-busting Buffalo Stance - as fresh and cheeky now as it was in 1989. The turntables which Grandmaster Flash used to change music forever are merely a sideshow in this packed and fascinating exhibition.

V&A Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 Until 12th January 2012, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL; www.vam.ac.uk

Europe, How to Judge an Obscure and Odd Museum, London, Miscellaneous, News, Oceania, United Kingdom, United States

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