Art 101

Stop Making Sense - 'Postmodernism : Style and Subversion'

Jo Chard reviews the latest blockbuster exhibition at the V&A - 'Postmodernism : Style and Subversion'

By Rise Art


The Postmodern era, documented in the V&A’s most recent kitsch, shoulder-padded venture, is an all-singing, all-clashing technicoloured 80’s dreamcoat of an exhibition. The title ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion’ spans the 70’s up to the 90’s and attempts to critique the era by investigating colliding ideologies, fashions, music and film.

This latest blockbuster-style exhibition attempts to document roughly two-decades easily dismissed as passé but which are actually very much still with us. It is, remarkably, both a horrible mess and a hypnotic snapshot embracing some unspeakably hideous pieces of furniture and crockery alongside some sublime drawings and film clips.

Over 250 different objects have been stuffed together into about three rooms. Laurie Anderson performs a snatch of ‘O Superman’ in her loft, while simultaneously, the very strange, post-human, self-invented singing-entity known as Klaus Nomi warbles on a nearby wall. Here's Grace Jones, and there's David Byrne in his big suit, for Jonathan Demme's ‘Talking Heads’ concert movie ‘Stop Making Sense’. That, perhaps would have been a more fitting exhibition title.

Ai Weiwei 'Han Dynasty Urn with Coca Cola Logo' 1994

Some of the 250 objects amassed in the exhibition are rather more memorable. A 2000-year Han Dynasty urn marked with the Coca Cola logo by Ai Weiwei examines the impact of Capitalism during the late 80’s - nothing is sacred. A rather uncomfortable looking trolley seat for the practical shopper and many, many tea pots inspired by 1920’s modernism, uglified with a postmodern twist.

A show with substance on the subject might have examined the fraught passing of our different modernisms and postmodernisms more fully. But this is not such an exhibition. Postmodernism was many things: cultural nomadism, critical deconstruction, mannered dandyism, liberating gender play, ugly chairs, architectural flim-flam, substantial novels, serious theory and self-questioning analysis. It seems to me that the V&A have managed to leave most of the best bits out, exposing the smug, silly, pop, poop and pap. Recently, Edwin Heathcote asked in the FT ‘Is Postmodernism the end of culture?’, if this exhibition is anything to go by, then the answer is quite possibly yes. 

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