Embracing everything from architecture to pottery, postmodernism
lacks a convincing, let alone succinct, explanation. More concept
than art movement, it defies true definition, but might best be
described as a subversive reaction to the clean lines and logic of
modernism. It thrives upon a sense of irony.
The show is immaculately presented, as are the young and trendy
crowd who've come to giggle, tweet and read notes about bricolage
printed on brightly coloured Perspex. Some of the middle-aged
patrons have knowing smirks on their faces, perhaps remembering a
time when postmodernism really was modern.
Begining with the experimental architecture of the 60s and 70s,
outlandish ideas start to turn smirks into titters. Forest
Showroom? Well, why not? Cars have them.
Hans Hollein's façade for the Venice Biennale in 1980, a series of
full-size columns telling the history of architecture, is an
impressive set piece.
The New Wave section brings us inside, as outfits by Vivienne
Westwood meet household objects, including a plethora of teapots.
The Italian collectives Memphis and Studio Alchymia are honoured,
and beautiful creations like Shiro Kuramata's Cabinet de Curiosité
mingle with harsher, Post-Punk work such as Ron Arad's Concrete
Stereo. Add to this vibrant magazine imagery, clips from
Bladerunner, and New Order album sleeves… eclectic isn't the word.
Surprises abound; a stainless steel bust of Louis XIV, hiding
magnificently in an alcove, is gasp-inducing.
Next it feels like we're entering a nightclub in the 80s, so what
better welcome than Boy George, immortalised as a lurid green
holograph? You feel underdressed - and who wouldn't next to outfits
worn by Leigh Bowery, and the androgynous Annie Lennox of
Queer takes over as binaries are given blurred boundaries - black
versus white, female versus male, straight versus gay -
everything is turned on its head. A projection of gender
bender Klaus Nomi is both ridiculous and captivating, while Mick
Rock shimmers as the Alternative Miss World Host/Hostess. An older
man, here to visit one of the security guards, expresses his
disapproval. You realise how radical some of this must once have
Grace Jones fans are treated to a life-size, 3D reproduction of
her maternity dress - which is more about thinking outside the box
than pregnancy. Films by Laurie Anderson and Derek Jarman compete
with more obscure video content from Karole Armitage and Charles
Warhol's Dollar Sign welcomes you into the final, financial
section, where the Consumer's Rest Chair communicates
postmodernism's love affair with late capitalism - not to mention
the dominance of theory over aesthetics. Haim Steinbach's Supremely
Black adds to the Pop Art feel, and the walls begin to shout.
"Money doesn't mind if we say it's evil, it goes from strength to
strength," repeats one, "Protect me from what I want," says
Serious and frivolous, ugly and beautiful, this bold collection
reflects the fabulous contradictions of postmodernism. There's a
very real sense of freedom, of people creating things just because
they can. As Brian Sewell bemoans in the Evening Standard: "All in
all, the exhibition is, unconsciously, a devastating denunciation
of design for design's sake."
Yes. Isn't it wonderful?
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990,
supported by Friends of the V&A and Barclays Wealth, runs to 15
Tickets: £11 (concessions
V&A Members Free Entry
IMAGE CREDIT Grace Jones by Jean-Paul Goude