The Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A museum covers a wide range of cultural milieux: art, architecture, product design, fashion, music, cinema. Every event with such vague focus risks falling into clichés and generalisations and this exhibition is no exception.
Anyone who studied architecture in the 90’s and early 00’s and attempted to establish a contemporary architectural idiom, was advised to look into postmodernism as a negative object-lesson. Possibly because emerging as an antipode to modernism’s austerity, postmodernism reached great heights in aesthetic flamboyancy. However architecture -and all other arts- tend to see the preceding era’s style as dated in order to move forward. Only for the same style to come back with a vengeance when fashion demands it. And the 80’s in particular are very much in fashion nowadays. Colours, forms, music and clothing styles of the 80’s are back and that could be a very plausible -and profitable- reason for the V&A to choose this subject now.
Nevertheless, the main exhibit here is not architecture and one has to go past too many bright coloured tea-sets and funny looking furniture to enjoy unique architectural drawings of that time like Gaetano Pesce’s Church of Solitude or Alexander Brodsy and Ilya Utkin’s Museum of Disappearing Buildings. Not to mention that Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas, theoretical milestone as it is for post-modernism, does not exactly get the place it deserves.
This exhibition undoubtedly focuses on commodities more than anything else. It also makes clear that since postmodernism emerged as the new -ism, commodities have become “interchangeable but also include a violent energy that is akin to punk music and fashion” *. This is why postmodern aesthetics are cool and that coolness seems important enough to outshine the fact that there is nothing separating the ‘avant-garde’ from the ‘commercial’ any longer. In that and in many other unfortunate ways, we are all most definitely postmodern.