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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, V&A

Postmodernism is among the most controversial of 20th Century art movements, many would argue that we are still experiencing it, mixing up the rules to say something new. This provocative movement kicked off in the 1980s with architecture acting as a rebuttal to the rigid Modernist movement and its conventions. Whereas in Modernism 'less is more', in Postmodernism 'less is a bore'. This much misunderstood 'style' is illustrated and explored in the current expansive exhibition at the V&A.

I studied Postmodernism for my History of Art A-level syllabus, but walking round the V&A I felt like I was learning it all for the first time, it is a tricky concept to grasp. It is hard to sum up this phenomenon in an exhibition with clarity, and some of this show feels muddled.

First we are introduced to sculptures, photographs and experiments that demonstrate postmodernist tendencies. Works such as Hans Hollein's facade from Strada Novissima, the Presence of the Past. Household appliances and furniture are futuristic and kitsch, bright colours, stylised and bold - image is everything. These I found a little tacky and uninteresting.

The latter half of the exhibition appealed to me more - the New Wave: vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration... all my favourite things! These features are illustrated predominantly through magazines and music. American performance artist, Laurie Anderson's elusive tracks use voice encoder fragments to create disorientating music. Punky magazines like i-d, bomb and fetish all stand out with fun bright colours and thrilling cutting edge graphics. Andy Warhol's signature silkscreen prints, and in particular the 'Dollar Sign' show the preoccupation with money and the extravagant 'designer decade'.

Postmodernism is fabulous in fashion - the androgynous look became popular - artists like Annie Lennox rebelled against convention by wearing straight masculine suits on stage. And in 1982 when Lagerfeld took over Chanel, the classic and prim black suits underwent a 'postmodernisation' with colours like acid yellow being introduced and radical new tailoring.

The show ends with New Order's music video "Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday?" Postmodernism is an ever changing set of ideals, and seeing this exhibition I could certainly feel the attraction and allure. But will Postmodernism always remain current and cool? Is it scary to imagine what could possibly come after this explosive movement? Only time will tell.

Ps. The shop has some rather wacky and nice stocking fillers.

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion continues until Sunday 15 January 2012, visit website here.

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