Postmodernism is an ambiguous notion that’s notoriously difficult to define. Its slipperiness baffled even the V&A, which has reportedly struggled to pin down the Postmodernist essence for about six years for their much anticipated exhibition, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990, which opens in a fortnight.
Curated by Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, the show offers the first detailed survey of the Postmodern design, architecture and art of the decades. Bringing together more than 250 objects across the disciplines. Works on show include Peter Saville and Neville Brody’s graphics, and the original presentation drawings for Philip Johnson’s AT&T building.
The centrepiece of the first gallery – which examines Postmodernism in architecture – will be a full-scale reconstruction of an architectural façade by Hans Hollein from the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale.
Architecture of the period was noted for its ‘bricolage’ approach, rejecting the purity and order of previous work in favour of a mixture of different methods, forms, colours and materials, as shown in the work of designers including Ron Arad. The gallery will demonstrate how designers and architects such as James Stirling, Aldo Rossi and Charles Moore took elements of the present and mixed them with motifs from the past.
The nightclub-esque middle section of the exhibition provides a survey of Postmodernism spanning all aspects of visual culture, including design, art, music, fashion, performance art and the gaudy bright lights and decadence of 1980s club culture.
Peter Saville’s iconic New Order album cover for 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies will be on show as an exemplar of taking the past and appropriating it for the present. For the piece, one of many of Saville’s works for Factory Records, the designer took a 19th-Century still-life painting and recontextualised it for the electronic beats of the early 1980s, aiming to create an elusive persona for the band.
Radical design group Memphis is represented by Martine Bedin, with her iconic 1981 Super lamp, and Ettore Sottsass’s Casablanca Sideboard, also from 1981. The pop sensibilities of these pieces are archetypical of the Postmodern impulse that design can be little more than skin-deep artifice – available to be imbued with tongue-in- cheek humour and a rejection of ‘high’ culture and seriousness.
The final section examines postmodernism in light of money, commodity and consumerism. In Martin Amis’s 1984 novel Money: A Suicide Note, protagonist John Self says, ‘I’m not allergic to the 20th Century – I’m addicted to it.’ We’re pretty sure that after seeing a show like this – if we aren’t already – we’ll all be slightly addicted to it too.
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 runs from 22 September – 15 January 2012 at the V&A Cromwell Rd, London SW7