There was a time in the mid-1980s when you’d be hard pressed to read a style magazine feature without the word ‘postmodern’ cropping up. For architects, designers and artists it was an era when being brash, witty, colourful and even kitsch was considered de rigueur. And yet, as the V&A’s new exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990 demonstrates, while the 1980s will forever be remembered as the decade of postmodernism, the movement’s roots can be traced back to 10 years earlier.
The V&A’s major autumn exhibition is the first in-depth survey of art, design and architecture of the 1970s and 1980s, examining one of the most divisive philosophies in recent art and design history. It traces postmodernism’s evolution from a provocative architectural movement in the early 1970s to an aesthetic juggernaut that spread its influence over all areas of popular culture – including art, film, music, graphics and fashion.
Rebelling against the constrictive doctrines of modernism, architects and designers like Charles Moore, Terry Farrell, Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsas argued that form needn’t necessarily follow function, that designers should be free to inject humour and parody into their work, cherry-picking a hotch-potch of historical influences. With postmodernism, ‘style’ went from being almost a dirty word to being the sine qua non.
Curated by Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, the exhibition brings together over 250 objects across a wide range of genres. In addition to architectural models and renderings, we find exuberant designs from Italian collectives Studio Alchymia and Memphis, graphics by Peter Saville and Neville Brody, music videos featuring Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and New Order, and performance costumes – including David Byrne’s oversized suit from 1984 documentary Stop Making Sense.
An accompanying book, 'Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-90' (V&A Publishing), is also available in hardback at £40. After the V&A, the exhibition moves to the Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (MART), Italy from 25 February 2012.