Monday, 31 October 2011

Postmodernism and the Victoria and Albert Museum

Comfy?   This chair is one of the exhibits at the Post-Modernism exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum here in London. If you get the chance, I do recommend it - or at least if you have the slightest interest in the pop culture of the 70s and 80s.  As well as all kinds of extraordinary things (some quite famous like the Mickey Mouse kettle)

there are some magnificent architectural set pieces and some great music.

I'd completely forgotten the German ex-opera singer Klaus Nomi who died  in 1983.  I wish they'd had his haunting Cold Song but in fact they had the utterly bizarre Lightning Strikes and I have to say that this went better with the exhibition. (click on the links to see the Youtube videos of these songs).

There is a strong decor and architectural focus to the show, which traces and rise, heyday, decline and fall of the Postmodernism movement.  We also saw the behind-the-scenes photographic work that went into that iconic and peculiar picture of Grace Jones - a pity, I'd always thought she had really struck that pose but actually it was put together in a clever pre-Photoshop collage.

It seems so strange to me that there wasn't photoshop - I don't think most people even had CDs.

Outside, in the V & A courtyard, people were relaxing and having a nice time.  One person decided to walk across the pool on his hands.

I didn't catch the moment when he overbalanced, but here he is, as Mr. Wet Teeshirt, and all his friends were highly amused.

I like the V & A because it manages to be both cool and cultural - even though its cafe is expensive and has a crazy queueing system.  But entry is totally free, and you only have to pay for some of the special exhibitions, so I usually take a deep breath and eat in the cafe, as a sort of payment for being able to get in free.

Postmodernism - Style and Subversion, 1970-1990 is on at the V & A till 15 January 2012.  It costs £11 for an adult, and there are various concessions - I got in for free because I'm a Friend of the V & A. 


  1. Wow! That chair cracks me up! Great recycling idea, though. And love the Mickey tea pot, too. Looks like this was fun! I'm glad there are still young people who will try to walk across a pool on their hands. ;)

  2. What a very interesting place to visit! I love the shots of the boy in the pool. Great job, as always.

  3. Thanks for this post. I walk along the V7A every day and was wondering whether to go and see this exhibition. I will try try to go!

  4. i so love the V&A looks like you had a great day there

  5. I love the trolley chair-do you think it was designed by someone who, as a teenager had taken trollies and been pushed around in them? It just begs you to get in and have a go!
    The V and A is great I agree. I love the beautiful cafe rooms.
    I thought that Grace Jones picture was a real pose too-I bet she could have done it really!

  6. The guy in the fountain must have visited the exhibition, inhaled the post-modernist fumes, and decided to throw a little performance :)

  7. I love the V and A, Jenny. I haven't been for a couple of years or so. And those photos very much make me want to go back, now!

  8. What a treat! I guess I lived through the postmodernist period without even realizing I was in it. I wonder where we're at now?

  9. I really need to get down to London.
    Grace Jones in a museum???
    Who'd have thought it?

  10. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s (my teenage years were spent having a different hair colour every week - it was considered a MUST in the 80s!) in Europe, I guess walking through that exhibition would feel like a school reunion, greeting old friends and seeing familiar faces, some a little embarrassing to remember, others with fun and fondness.
    Indeed, there was no photoshop, and the records we bought were all vinyl...
    The V&A is one of my favourite museums in London, and I think I am not alone in that.

  11. Looks like I have a great excuse for a trip to London!

  12. Jenny,
    I do not know about Post Modernism well. The chair seems me to refuse to be sit or the cart refuses to serve as a cart. Seeing the white painted face of Klaus Nomi, I felt he was transforming himself to someone else and reminded me of a white mask used in Noh play.. Your blog made me want to travel to see this exhibition. I must have missed this kind of movement in 70s and 80s in Japan, or have been interested in something else.. Thanks a lot for posting such an interesting world.
    Best wishes,

  13. Even more reason to make sure that I get down to London before the middle of January. Love the trolley-chair : perfect for our Tesco-times.

  14. I'd love to go but as I can't, thank you for giving us a flavour of the exhibition here.

  15. Like other's here, the chair is my pick of the pieces you showed. Great photo - chair? cart? chair? cart? For a second or two my brain was on "flicker".


  16. I'm ashamed to say that I've only once been in the V&A and that was over 40 years ago. On the rare occasions I go to London (a place I avoid as much as I can) I concentrate on art galleries. Nor do I recall Klaus Nomi. I agree that his Cold Song is haunting though.

    All that having been said (ablative absolute?) I have to confess a certain failure to understand the concept of Postmodernism as a philosophy. Mind you I'm not even sure that I understood Modernism!

  17. Your Mr Wet Tee Shirt reminded me of a small boy in my class first year out of college. Pouring wet afternoon. None of them had wet weather clothes. I told them not to hang about on the way home. When I left - much later - he was doing exactly that in the middle of the playground's deepest puddle.

  18. A delightful post.

    Haven't been to the V and A for ages and ages but used to haunt it as an art history student.
    Feel the need to have an extended visit to London coming on.

  19. Walking on hands across a pool of water is an exhibition in itself! This is such an interesting postmodernism post it has me wondering if Victoria and Albert would also be amused. :)

  20. Really interesting exhibit. Hadn't come across Klaus Nomi before but now think he is way-out-there cool! I was charmed too by the hand-walker in the water. It is just the kind of thing my husband would do, though he gets more of a kick scaring me with handstands on the brinks of precipices!

    I just came across an article on the BBC regarding a Lewis Carroll exhibit at the Tate Liverpool. Are you visiting that one?

    On Google Doodle, unfortunately, I did not know any of the pumpkin carvers personally. My friend works in a different department.

  21. @Sarah, I had exactly the same thought as you! Actually it was fun being pushed around in a trolley by friends wasn't it! :) I saw a couple of teenage girls being pushed on one of those hotel carts by their dad last week, the sort which have a pole on them. Quite a good sport dad....@Librarian, yes, there was a definite feeling of deja vu, and "Why didn't I realise at the time how interesting this was?" Of course an exhibition cherrypicks the best stuff, I suppose. Strangely enough Disney World in Florida has some brilliant examples of post modernist architecture in its hotels and admin buildings. Its CEO Michael Eisner was an architecture fan. Even the carpets were specially woven. I wonder if they're still like that. @Snowwhite, Keiko, what a very interesting observation about a Noh play. And I have an idea that this movement was popular in the US and in Europe but not further afield, so perhaps it was not much publicised in Japan. @The Foolish Aesthete, yes, I hope to go to the Tate - I'm hoping the LCS will set up a group trip as it's more interesting to go with keen collectors. Yes I know all about husbands that teeter over the edge of precipices. Does yours also go down rough steep hills at top speed on his bike?

  22. And I forgot to say, that as usual I am very grateful and interested in ALL comments, so thank you all very much.

  23. I’m afraid I don’t know what postmodernism is. The examples presented by you look bizarre, but of course something bizarre would not be the definition. They look odd and strange maybe because I’m not familiar with. Since art is the way of expressing ourselves, I wonder what the guy walking on his hands in the pool wants to express? He looks like a living sculpture of postmodernism.


  24. smashing chair! a homeless throne

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  25. Thnakyou very much for this and for introducing me to the haunting 'Cold Song' and to Klaus Nomi. I will be in the UK in early December so will be booking a ticket to this exhibition. My mother-in-law, originally from germany regards the V&A as her second home... she will enjoy this too.

  26. fun! especially as an 80's child.
    i didn't realise you had to pay for some exhibits there.
    i'm totally disappointed that she never struck that pose. it never occurred to me back then that it was fake.

  27. I love the mickey mouse kettle. Happy weekend! :)


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