Defying Definition- The V&A Postmodern Exhibit

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Walking past Dale Chihuly’s huge blue and green chandelier made of twisted blown glass and into the Postmodern Exhibit located at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a quote on the wall struck me almost immediately. It read: “An unstable mix of theatrical and theoretical, the movement defies definition.”

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

And it’s very true. This very controversial movement of art and design, beginning in the late 1960s, was extremely hard to define because the very nature of the time period was to try and defy those definitions that have been placed on modern day society. It was about breaking the rules and getting out of the societal box we lived in. Going through the exhibit, I got a new sense as to what sort of art (be it painting, architecture, music, or sculpture) fit into this period and what it meant to be a postmodern artist.

No matter where your interests lie, I think everyone can find things they like and dislike in this exhibit. There is so much variety in the way of color, objects and topics, that some things are bound to floor you. From one room to the next you can find photographs, paintings, teapots made to look like all sorts of figures, futuristic-style clothes worn by music artists, and an eerie recordings of songs made in this period.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Although this is a predominantly arts and painting-related blog, one of the things that most interested me from this time period was the style of architecture, so I am going to deviate a bit from my usual topics of paintings and galleries and be a bit unconventional. How very postmodern of me. The whole nature of ‘questioning objects,’ in which artists of the time tried to recreate and change the meaning of objects, is a bit ridiculous to me. Personally, I don’t see the need for a ziggurat teapot anymore than a need to go out into the middle of a quarry and light a chair on fire (Alessandro Mendini’s “Burning Chairs”). But the architecture made during this period was unlike anything that had ever been done before. Cities were now pieces of art, buildings had new color and shape, and installations caught your eye in what was before dull, concrete jungles.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Hanging on the wall, there was a photograph of The Gehry House in Santa Monica, California, which was a great representation of both the architecture that was born from this period and the very essence of the period itself. Frank O. Gehry took an existing residential shingled roof, brick house in L.A., and instead of demolishing it, wrapped it in building materials. Gehry took the ideas of the rejection of principles, and encouragement of illusions and decorations, and transformed the house into something new entirely.

In the exhibition book, Postmodernism Style and Subversion, that you can buy at the museum, said, “The original house penetrates the new, a solid square which looks as if it is pushing through its temporary and unstable surrounds.” Gehry took the most common building materials of any building sight like chain-link fencing, timber siding and iron sheeting and made his cookie-cutter house into one of imperfection and unfinishedness. This jumble of styles and material is also a characteristic of art from the postmodern period.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I came across an interesting question in my research after my visit to The V&A. In the back of the book, the post-script asked the following question: “If modern is now past, and postmodern is almost past, what will the era we’re in now be called?” The way in which eras work is that you cannot describe what they are or what they are comprised of until they pass us. But the postmodernists learned from the modern artwork before them and it had a part in shaping the art created during the period, so the same could be hypothesized about the time period we are in now.

I greatly enjoyed my time at the Postmodern Exhibition, and the book created on the artwork inside it was really interesting and went into much greater detail about the pieces in the exhibit. Whatever opinion you have of the postmodernist style, one thing can be said: it has greatly influenced the ideas and style of our art today. And like the Gehry House, the breaking of rules and definitions was the basis of the entire time period as they tried to turn everything ordinary into extraordinary.

This exhibition will run from 24 Sep 2011 – 15 Jan 2012. For further information, please visit the V&A website.

*Images courtesy of V&A images

About this article

Seana McCroddan

About Seana McCroddan

Resides in Virginia, studying Media Arts and Design with a concentration in Journalism. Currently attending university in London, and exploring the British culture through study and work with the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
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