postmodernism @ V&A

The V&A is a dab hand at staging exhibitions on style, culture and fashion. In the past it has given the public insight into everything from surrealism to couture. The exploration of postmodernism is a chance to revisit, or in my case discover a period of colour, attitude and rebellion, in a grand departure from its simplistic predecessor, modernism. Postmodernism looked to the past for inspiration for a future with fluorescent skies and strong punchlines. Instead of upholding traditional ideals of refinery and perfection, it is gutsy and provocative, making its older sister look lacklustre and boring. This is highlighted perfectly in Karl Lagerfeld’s takeover of Chanel, which began to experiment with sequins, shorter skirts and handbags, breathing a new lease of life into the previously more demure Chanel suit.

The 1970s to early 90s are showcased in black rooms with garish bright lights, straight out of an 80s nightclub. The curators have shown postmodernism through architecture, design, art, fashion and music spanning a large range of artists including Andy Warhol, Ai Wei Wei and kitchenware from Alessi. Postmodernism started architecturally when architects rejected the uniqueness of modernism in favour of a collage approach of melding many different styles together.

Film showcases changes in fashion, music, cinema and graphics. It agrees with The Buggles hit: Video Killed the Radio Star, which has clearly been inspired by this movement. As you walk around the darkness of the exhibition under its garish lights, one is treated to scenes from Ridley Scotts Blade Runner, with original costumes from the film, as well as music from the likes of Philip Glass.

Although some of the 250 articles on display could be seen to be overtly kitsch, the curators have shown how postmodernism could still be thriving today. With todays teenagers rummaging around charity shops and markets and looking to vintage to update their looks, postmodernism is still making its mark today in a new era for a new generation. That said, some articles on display such as a disney inspired version of Alessi kitchenware has been seen by some critics as a gimmick. Personally I think this adds to the whole idea of self expression. Jeff Koons has shown his postmodernistic flare with a stainless steel bust of Louis XIV. Individuality and creativity was mimicked by musicians, artists and fashion designers who made everything from plates to teapots, juxtaposing brightly coloured plastics with an array of metals.

The exhibition also shows the rise, popularity and importance of magazines such as i-d and fashion design from the likes of Memphis. As a child of the nineties, it could be quite confusing to grasp whether all these fabulous items and outfits were used by all. I get the impression that just a handful of fashionistas really abided to this culture, it is hard to imagine a million Grace Jones’s walking down Oxford Street in Jean-Paul Gouda and Antonio Lopez’s maternity dress, it seems like it has been pulled out of a fashion editorial in i-d magazine.

For me, this exhibition gave a brilliant insight into a time of rebellion, self expression and vitality, where everything was a style statement. Style and Subversion, the slogan if you like for this exhibition, accurately encapsulates the whole ethos of postmodernism, a time where image was everything, so much so, that commercial branding got in on the act, and there is even a three piece suit covered in different brand names on display. Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it denies principles in favour of combining several traditional styles into one structure, it is self expression personified.

Postmodernism – Style and Subversion is open at the V&A until 15 January

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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