Martine Bedin, Super Lamp, © V&A images.

Surveying the Style and Subversion of Postmodernism, 1970-1990

Clare Strand, Signs of a Struggle, 2003, © Clare Strand.

Calum Colvin, Untitled, 1985, © Calum Colvin.

Haim Steinbach, Supremely Black, 1985, Private Collection.

Clare Strand, Signs of a Struggle, 2003, © Clare Strand.

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, 1966, Vegas, © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates.

Peter Saville, Power, Corruption, and Lies, New Order album cover, © Peter Saville.

Cinzia Ruggeri, Homage to Levi-Strauss dress AutumnWinter collection 1983, 1983-4, © V&A images.




Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
+44 (0)20 7942 2000
Figures and Fictions:
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990

September 24, 2011-January 15, 2012

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 is the first in-depth survey of art, design and architecture of the 1970s and 1980s, examining one of the most contentious phenomena in recent art and design history: Postmodernism. It shows how postmodernism evolved from a provocative architectural movement in the early 1970s and rapidly went on to influence all areas of popular culture including art, film, music, graphics and fashion

The exhibition explores the radical ideas that challenged the orthodoxies of Modernism; overthrowing purity and simplicity in favour of exuberant colour, bold patterns, artificial looking surfaces, historical quotation, parody and wit, and above all, a newfound freedom in design. Many modernists considered style to be a mere sideshow to their utopian visions; but for the postmodernists, style was everything.

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 brings together over 250 objects across all genres of art and design, revisiting a time when style was not just a ‘look’ but became an attitude. On display will be the subversive designs of the Italian collectives Studio Alchymia and Memphis; graphics by Peter Saville and Neville Brody; architectural models and renderings, including the original presentation drawing for Philip Johnson’s AT&T building (1978); paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol; Jeff Koons’ stainless steel bust of Louis XIV (1986); an enormous recreation of Jenny Holzer’s illuminated billboard Protect Me From What I Want (1983-85); performance costumes, including David Byrne’s big suit from the documentary Stop Making Sense (1984); excerpts from films such as Derek Jarman’s The Last of England (1987); and music videos featuring Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and New Order.

Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “This exhibition will be the first to examine this dramatic period in the history of art and design. It is good to be holding it now with so many of the key protagonists giving us their first hand experiences of the emergence and spread of postmodern style in design around the world.”

The exhibition is arranged in three broadly chronological sections identifying the key aspects of postmodernism. The first gallery will focus largely on architecture, the discipline in which the ideas of postmodernism first emerged. It will show how "high" and "low" cultural references were blended into a new critical language, which was aimed both at the inadequacies of Modernism and the alienating conditions of late capitalism. This opening section will also introduce the way in which postmodern designers and architects like Aldo Rossi, Charles Moore and James Stirling combined motifs of the past with elements of the present. Designers of the time, including Ron Arad, Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo, assembled cultural fragments in an ‘ad hoc’ manner, applying the technique of bricolage across many different disciplines. The centrepiece of the gallery will be a full-scale reconstruction of an architectural façade by Hans Hollein from the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale.

The second part of the exhibition will be devoted to the proliferation of postmodernism through design, art, music, fashion, performance, and club culture during the 1980s. Performers such as Grace Jones, Leigh Bowery and Klaus Nomi played with genre and gender, creating hybrid, subversive stage personas. Like the music, objects and architecture of the time, these celebrities were themselves constructed from "samples." This section of the exhibition is saturated with audio-visual installations, creating a dynamic club-like space to display objects including fashion photography by Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, stage ensembles worn by Annie Lennox and Devo, turntables used by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, and dance costumes related to the choreography of Karole Armitage, Kazuo Ohno, and Michael Clark.

The final section will examine the hyper-inflated commodity culture of the 1980s. This boom decade saw money become a source of endless fascination for artists, designers and authors. From Andy Warhol’s 1981 Dollar Sign paintings, to Karl Lagerfeld’s designs for Chanel, consumerism and excess were trademarks of the postmodern. Brands including Swatch, MTV and Disney were also keen to employ leading designers to apply postmodern style to their products; one example on display will be a Mickey Mouse tea set designed by Michael Graves for Disney. As the novelist Martin Amis put it in 1984, ‘money doesn’t mind if we say it’s evil, it goes from strength to strength.

By the late 1980s, many had started to declare the death of postmodernism – without being quite sure what would take its place. The exhibition concludes with art and design from this uncertain moment, encouraging visitors to consider what relevance.

Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism is on display in Gallery 38A from August 11-November 17. 2011. This display explores postmodern approaches to photography since the 1970s and includes work from Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and David Shrigley.

Clare Strand, Signs of a Struggle, 2003, © Clare Strand.

Tess Hurrell, Chaology no.1, 2006, © Tess Hurrell.

WET magazine, © April Greiman and Jayme Odgers.

Jean-Paul Goude, Grace Jones maternity dress, 1979, © Jean-Paul Goude.

Frank Schreiner (for Stiletto Studios), Consumer's Rest chair, 1990, © V&A images.

Sarah Charlesworth, Garden of Delight, 1988, © Sarah Charlesworth.

Jonathan Lewis, Ermanno Scervino, © Jonathan Lewis.