V&A asks: “What is Luxury?”

The V&A has announced a new exhibition, which looks to challenge our perceptions of luxury, a term that it finds can be left open to huge interpretation and defined in many ways. 

Re-materialisation of Systems. El Ultimo Grito, 2014

Source: POI

Re-materialisation of Systems. El Ultimo Grito, 2014

The exhibition, What is Luxury? opens next spring and has been put on in collaboration with the Crafts Council.

It begins by defining luxury as exceptional design or craftsmenship. The objects displayed in this section all show an investment of time, skill and expertise.
They include: the Space Traveller’s Watch, a handmade timepiece by watchmaker George Daniels; a chandelier by Studio Drift featuring real dandelion seeds applied by hand to LED lights; and the Bubble Bath necklace by Nora Fok, made from more than 1000 hand-knitted nylon bubbles.  

Fragile Future 3 Concrete Chandelier. Studio Drift, 2011

Source: Studio Drift, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

Fragile Future 3 Concrete Chandelier. Studio Drift, 2011

The exhibition will be organised around a large spirograph centrepiece designed by Philippe Malouin for glassware company Lobmeyr, which rotates to draw patterns made in sand, referencing the time-intensive process of making fine crystal.

Further on, objects which at first appear to have nothing to do with each other will be displayed side-by-side and contextualized with graphic panels displaying terminology associated with luxury in a bid to show the subjectiveness of luxury. 

Necklace, Bubble Bath. Nora Fok, 2001
Necklace, Bubble Bath. Nora Fok, 2001

In this section bowls by the artist Chung Hae-Cho created entirely through building up multiple layers of lacquer, are placed alongside a menswear collection by designer Carol Christian Poell, known for his devotion to examining and perfecting tailoring techniques.

The Second Space Traveller's Watch. George Daniels, 1983
The Second Space Traveller’s Watch. George Daniels, 1983

Elsewhere the future of luxury will be examined as the exhibition looks at the relationship between luxury, value and materials.

Hair Highway by Studio Swine interrogates some of these themes. The piece sees human hair set in resin creating highly decorative pieces of furniture reminiscent of valuable but luxury materials such as tortoiseshell or horn. Human hair is also one of the few natural resources which increases with the world’s population.

Combs, Hair Highway. Studio Swine, 2014
Combs, Hair Highway. Studio Swine, 2014

The show also takes fictional and artistic tangents, including an imagined DNA Vending machine by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo containing DNA samples.  

Visitors will be encouraged to think about increasing access to biotechnology and how privacy and ownership of one’s own DNA may become a luxury in the future.

At the heart of he exhibition seems to be the message that luxury is hugely subjective.

V&A curator of Contemporary Furniture Jana Scholze and co-curator of What is Luxury? says: “Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one.” She hopes that the exhibition “will challenge common interpretations of luxury, invite close examination of luxury production and extend ideas of what luxury can be”.

Voltage Dress, Iris van Herpen. 2013, Paris

Source: M. Zoeter x Iris van Herpen

Voltage Dress, Iris van Herpen. 2013, Paris

The exhibition has been designed in house, with Katharina Weistroffer working on 3D elements and Clara Sancho working on graphics.

What is Luxury? will run from 25 April – 27 September 2015 at the V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

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