Postmodernism shattered established ideas about style. It brought a radical freedom to art and design, through gestures that were often funny, sometimes confrontational and occasionally absurd. Of all movements in art and design history, Postmodernism was an unstable mix of the theatrical and theoretical, a multifaceted style that ranged from the colourful to the ruinous, the ludicrous to the luxurious. Most of all, postmodernism brought a new self-awareness about style itself.
Previous modernist utopian visions had been based on creating a new world of clarity and simplicity. Postmodernism, by contrast, was more like a broken mirror, a reflecting surface made of many fragments. Its key principles were complexity and contradiction. It was meant to resist authority, yet over the course of two decades, from about 1970 to 1990, it became enmeshed in the very circuits of money and influence that it had initially sought to dismantle.
Postmodernism lived up to its central aim: to replace a homogenous idiom with a plurality of competing ideas and styles. That wide embrace was reflected in Hans Hollein’s façade for the Venice Biennale in 1980, which had as its centrepiece a ‘street of styles’ named the Strada Novissima. Hollein designed a set of columns that reprise the history of architecture, from the primitive garden through classical ruin to a modernist skyscraper. This extraordinary set piece is recreated in the V&A exhibition at full scale.
This survey exhibition at the V&A covers art, architecture, design, music and fashion. From Warhol to Westwood via Hans Hollein and David Byrne, over 250 objects explore the origins, meaning and influence of the Postmodernist idea.
V&A London. 24/09/2011 – 15/01/2012
Images: Grace Jones in a maternity dress designed by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez, 1979 © Jean-Paul Goude.
Hans Hollein. façade from Strada Novissima, The Presence of the Past, 1980. Biennale of Architecture, Venice.