Postmodernism is something I’ve never really been particularly interested in. Does anyone really understand it? Can anyone really define it? It does seem to be that striving to be unconventional became the convention, and that was Postmodernism’s ironic downfall. But following a visit to the V&A’s exhibition I was definitely more inspired than annoyed (the confusion, however, remains).
It’s unbelievable, really, that Ettore Sottsass’ dreamlike mint green teapot in 1969 was to prefigure the twenty years to follow. An obsession with mixing historical influences, colours, textures and playing with the perception of reality followed, culminating in the decadent 80s and the philosophy that image was everything.
Rem Koolhaas’ 1976 ‘Drawing of Welfare Palace Hotel’ is incredible. Thin line, pattern and light colours render the building from an unusual perspective. The building doesn’t seem to work, half flooded, and a solitary bridge with steps on either side is reminiscent of Dali. ‘Complexity and contradiction’ as that accompanying text quite rightly put it.
But aside from beautifully presented architectural images, the exhibition gives a great insight into Postmodernism’s total domination of the 1980s. A huge array of Studio Alchyma and Memphis products are displayed, in particular, Martine Bedin’s ‘Super Lamp’. Bedin put the lamp on wheels: ‘I can carry it behind me, like a dog’. Useful? Probably not. But imaginative, exciting, desirable? Even just viewing the prototype made me wish I had one.
That’s what really struck me about the exhibition. Postmodernism doesn’t need to recur anytime soon. But the playful attitude, daring form and the surrealist nature present in many of its artefacts will undoubtedly inspire generations of artists, architects and designers for many years to come.
I cannot wait to read my book on Memphis.