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RECOMMENDATION: Postmodernism Style and Subversion @ the V&A

October 31, 2011

When I was at school , doing art A-Level , my teacher used to tell me this , “Kenny – make sure that you go to an art gallery every 3 months , for the rest of your life”

Now I must admit – I have not achieved this , and by no means .
I started well, in my school days I would regularly take a trip to the Royal Academy , Tate Britain , the Haywood and the V&A , I knew these institutions inside out, but too much of a good thing leaves you cold.
In my 20s clubs and bars replaced galleries and rightly so, but now in my 30s the tides are turning once more.

Buoyed by a summer of decent enough (but not spectacular exhibitions) Gauguin at the Tate, The British Art show at the the Hayward , and a few pop up exhibitions here and there – I was ripe for the taking , and “Postmodernism , Style and Subversion ” at the V&A, really hit the spot.

For those that may not know, Postmodernism is the movement born out of rebellion of the finesse, progression and utopian ideals of modernism. Modernist like Le Courbusier and Picasso pulled us out of the industrial ages with ideas of Utopia and clean efficient living centred around the car and increased technology. Post modernism stuck two fingers up at this ideal and span it on its head , creating a dystopian philosophy where rules were subjective and order was decided by the artist. If there were rules – these rules are there to be broken. Point 1 of the Postmodernist manifesto reads

“The art of the past is past. What was true of art yesterday is false today”

The thing that appeals the most about this exhibition is that it is very recent history 1970-1990 so anyone born before 1985 will instantly remember some very nostalgic items.

As exhibitions go, this is very very unpretentious and consumer friendly , YOU DON’T NEED TO BE AN EXPERT to really understand and experience this exhibition. Postmodernism was the first movement where the curators of exhibitions were as important as the artist, its all about popular culture and you the viewer

The exhibition begins by charting the first steps of the movement in Europe by Italian artists such as Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis studio, the burning chair image really sticks in the mind as a direct attack on modernists principals. We move from Europe to Las Vagas where the Strip and consumerist culture inspire the Architects Venturi and Scott-Brown, who’s 1964 Venturi house was the first example of postmodernist architecture. The modern American family home but with a twist.

From here you move nicely through the innocence and purity of the movements beginnings, and unlike many exhibitions iv been to – you are actually interested in the story.

From Vivien Westwood to Ridley Scott’s post modern future classic “Blade Runner” you see how apocalyptic the movement was, the future was an uncertain realm, cynicism had crept into art.

My favourite part of the exhibition had to be the 80s, the onset of the “new wave” neon culture , never before has life, advertising , music and art been so IN YOUR FACE. The birth of hip hop, Kraftwork, and talking heads all feature, its superb.

But nothing lasts forever, and as we reach the exhibitions climax we are shown how postmodernism kills itself.

What was amazing for me about this show, was how far and wide the movement stretched and how big it became. We sometimes sit back and think art is simply something that is viewed in galleries and on murals, but art is a feeling , it’s an ideal , and even though the movement is over – it has shaped us all.

We no longer take what is given to us by the media, we no longer dress all the same, we no longer live the same, it is this democratic, almost capitalist approach to art and life that is postmodernisms greatest legacy
Ill leave you with point number 10 from the manifesto – which I think sums it all up

“Postmodern art is self-consciously shallow, stylistically hybrid, ambiguous, provocative and endlessly repeatable.”

Written by Kenny Sykes

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