Blog archive November 2011
so, postmodernism exhibition. the first thing to say is that i am over-familiar with the subject matter and exhibition contents, having been an architecture student through the height of it in the late 70s and early 80s. in fact i could mount a miniature version of the show from my own possessions. it starts with a large architecture section, which undoubtedly touches all the bases in a comprehensive way, but this is the hardest part for me since it is all the stuff i know too well and have rejected.
i would have liked to see more blade runner and more early 80s japanese fashion - comme des garcons and yamamoto had a huge impact with clothes that seemed to violate western notions of tailoring and fine fabrics. the one comme outfit in the exhibition brought back pleasant memories of wearing mass-market rip-offs of that look - oversized black wool and cotton. i still like.
studio alchymia and memphis probably made the best artefacts of the period. memphis especially retains an optimism and strangeness, partly because it had deep roots in the 60s which are not made clear enough here. the stuff influenced-by is more disturbing - showing how this quickly became a meaningless luxury style for the new rich. there is a large section of these luxury objects [of course we're in the v&a], but the thing that would be good just here is the movie 'wall street', wherein we see the characters surrounded by pomo architecture and possessions - the setting for "greed is good". again, it isn't made clear enough *why* postmodernism was so easily co-opted by neo-liberalism.
being so familiar with the period, i can't help noticing what's missing. there isn't enough explanation of context at the beginning, before we are dumped into postmodern architecture. too little is said about the crisis of modernism in the late 60s, and the varying motivations of the first postmodernists in rejecting it and seeking new directions. little is said about the philosophical and societal underpinnings, semiotics and deconstruction, the effects of consumerism and the media - all the things that loosened the presumed ties between form and function, style and meaning. the exhibition shows us what, but isn't clear enough about why.
even within each section, there is not enough storyline - more a scattergun survey, entertaining but frustrating. postmodernism was highly referential, so what came from where and in what order matters. it would have been a good idea to provide a list of references on the label for each object.
the beginning also needs more pop-cultural pzazz, some sweeteners to get the punters into it. roxy music and biba, say, to introduce themes of historical revivalism and identity [self]construction. neither roxy nor biba appear here - no pop and fashion from before the 80s, so missing some key parts of the story.
so, worth a look, but i feel like i should make a supplementary set of notes for anyone i know who goes, to make better sense of it. a metanarrative, if you like ;)