Postmodernism A New V&A Cultural Survey

Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990  Explores Postmodernism and its impact on architecture, design and art

The Victoria and Albert Museum have announced a major autumn exhibition exploring Postmodernism. This will be the first in-depth study of architecture, design and art covering the 1970s and 1980s, examining a recent and contentious phenomena in art and design history. Postmodernism will show how the style evolved from a provocative architectural movement in the early 1970s which rapidly went on to influence all areas of popular culture including art, film, music, graphics and fashion.
The exhibition will explore the radical ideas that challenged the orthodoxies of Modernism; overthrowing purity and simplicity in favour of exuberant colour, bold patterns, artificial looking surfaces, historical quotation, parody and wit, and above all, a newfound freedom in design. Many modernists considered style to be a mere sideshow to their utopian visions; but for the postmodernists, style was everything.

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990 will bring together over 250 objects across all genres of art and design, revisiting a time when style was not just a ‘look’ but became an attitude.  On display will be the subversive designs of the Italian collectives Studio Alchymia and Memphis; graphics by Peter Saville and Neville Brody; architectural
models and renderings, including the original presentation drawing for Philip Johnson’s AT&T building (1978); paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol; Jeff Koons’ stainless steel bust of Louis XIV (1986); an enormous recreation of Jenny Holzer’s illuminated billboard Protect Me From What I Want (1983-85); performance costumes, including David Byrne’s big suit from the documentary Stop Making Sense (1984); excerpts from films such as Derek Jarman’s The Last of England (1987); and music videos featuring Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and New Order. 
Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “This exhibition will be the first to examine this dramatic period in the history of art and design. It is good to be holding it now with so many of the key protagonists giving us their first hand experiences of the emergence and spread of postmodern style in design around the world.” The exhibition will be arranged in three broadly chronological sections identifying the key aspects of Postmodernism. The first gallery will focus largely on architecture, the discipline in which the ideas of Postmodernism first emerged. It will show how ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural references were blended into a new critical language, which was aimed both at the inadequacies of Modernism and the alienating conditions of late capitalism. This opening section will also introduce the way in which postmodern designers and architects like Aldo Rossi, Charles Moore and James Stirling combined motifs of the past with elements of the present. Designers of the time, including Ron Arad, Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo, assembled cultural fragments in an ‘ad hoc’ manner, applying the technique of bricolage across many different disciplines. The centrepiece of the gallery will be a full-scale reconstruction of an architectural façade by Hans Hollein from the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale. 
The second part of the exhibition will be devoted to the proliferation of Postmodernism through design, art, music, fashion, performance, and club culture during the 1980s. Performers such as Grace Jones, Leigh Bowery and Klaus Nomi played with genre and gender, creating hybrid, subversive stage personas. Like the music, objects and architecture of the time, these celebrities were themselves constructed from ‘samples’. This section of the exhibition will be saturated with audio- visual installations, creating a dynamic club-like space to display objects including fashion photography by Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, stage ensembles worn by Annie Lennox and Devo, turntables used by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, and dance costumes related to the choreography of Karole Armitage, Kazuo Ohno, and Michael Clark. 
The final section will examine the hyper-inflated commodity culture of the 1980s. This boom decade saw money become a source of endless fascination for artists, designers and authors. From Andy Warhol’s 1981 Dollar Sign paintings, to Karl Lagerfeld’s designs for Chanel, consumerism and excess were trademarks of the postmodern. Brands including Swatch, MTV and Disney were also keen to employ leading designers to apply postmodern style to their products; one example on display will be a Mickey Mouse tea set designed by Michael Graves for Disney. As the novelist Martin Amis put it in 1984, ‘money doesn’t mind if we say it’s evil, it goes from strength to strength.’
By the late 1980s, many had started to declare the death of Postmodernism – without being quite sure what would take its place. The exhibition concludes with art and design from this uncertain moment, encouraging visitors to consider what relevance the postmodern episode might have for the present day.  Photo: Grace Jones in a maternity dress designed by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez, 1979 © Jean-Paul Goude
The exhibition runs from 24 September 2011 – 15 January 2012 Visit Exhibition

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