This is unforgivably late, but if you’ve got a spare hour or two this weekend I really recommend checking out the Postmodernism show at the V&A before it closes on Sunday. I finally made it down there yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s a history lesson without being too ‘teachy’, and includes some incredible work from a huge range of fields: design, fashion, architecture, fine art, graphics, film, music, performance – it’s all there, and it’s mostly great. Highlights include David Byrne’s ‘big suit‘, some amazing Memphis designs (my favourite was the Bel Air Chair) and a huge projection of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. Rather too many teapots, perhaps, but that’s a small quibble.
Towards the end of the exhibition there’s a bit of a meta moment, with a brief but interesting commentary on the notorious and influential 1989 show Magiciens de la Terre, and two pieces by African artists who featured in it. Tucked into a corner, there’s a Mercedes coffin by Ghanaian artist Samuel Kane Kwei (similar to the ones by Paa Joe that made such a brouhaha last year at Jack Bell). Next to it, one of Bodys Isek Kingelez’ stunning creations sprouts from a plinth: this ‘Model for a Zaire Pavilion’ is, like all of Kingelez’ work, a mind-boggling feat of imagination and skill. His apparent use of bricolage made his work popular with the postmodern set, including Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, whose presence looms large over the whole show.
This little section is designed to flag up the Euro-centrism of postmodernism. As the interpretation suggests, ‘Sottsass probably knew little about Kingelez, but he was happy to see a model like this as a transcultural moment’; in other words, the presence of Kwei, Kingelez and other non-Western artists in Magiciens de la Terre revealed more about the curators’ all-consuming postmodernist global vision than the artists’ original intentions. There’s a strange paradox here; what are these two pieces doing in the V&A now, if not to illustrate the curators’ (albeit rather more sophisticated) narrative about Euro-American cultural history? They’re not there to show anything about art, design or culture in Ghana or the DRC, that’s for sure. Still, it’s encouraging to see the beginnings of a critical approach to this kind of issue in a big exhibition like this one.
You can read more about Kingelez and see some rather poor images here.
You can read some interesting pieces on Magiciens de la Terre here.
The exhibition costs £11 for adults and £8 for students, and ends tomorrow…
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London