Postmodernism: The Private View

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Jane Pavitt, co-curator, ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990’: The exhibition is about [a] radical and energetic explosion of new design behaviours in the 1970s and 1980s, and we look at how designers affected a shift away from what was seen as a stultified modernism in the late 60s towards something that was much more subversive and was much more concerned with plurality and diversity and style. And then we examine how it develops through the 80s to be something closely associated with the boom culture of that decade and the economic excesses of the period.

Sarah Strickland (V&A Channel): There’s such a wealth of objects [in the show]. Was it difficult to choose what went in?

Glenn Adamson, co-curator, ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990’: Yes, it was almost impossible to choose; we had to, but there’s something like 250 objects in the show and we could have had literally thousands, so it’s a kind of a ‘best of’ postmodernism. And hopefully people will be able to see something of the movement – not just what it looked like, but to also come to a real understanding of it.

Jane Pavitt: We have furniture by Ettore Sottsass, we have architecture by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, we have a giant reconstruction of a series of columns designed by Hans Hollein, the Viennese architect, in 1980 for the Venice Biennale, we have music and performance costumes for Grace Jones, Annie Lennox and David Byrne of Talking Heads.

Glenn Adamson: We want people to make up their own minds about postmodernism, so we want to show them a lot [and] we want them to feel really excited and thrilled, but we don’t necessary want them to be that sure [of] what they think. You know, postmodernism is about trying to unsettle you – it’s about provocation; it’s not about certainty. I hope that when people walk out of the show they’ll have seen a lot and thought a lot but they’ll still have a lot of thinking to do.

Sarah Strickland: You were one of the first people to use and define the word ‘postmodernism’. How does it feel to be here today at the postmodernism exhibition?

Charles Jencks, architect: Well, I feel 10 years younger. Postmodernism is modernism before the fact… Everybody [who is] postmodernist had to be modern, and therefore, when you get older, you realise you were pre-modern as well. Modernism in its heyday had that. Many people say that postmodernism was modernism when it was young, so I think that’s true, it’s very close to pre-modernism. And you get the spirit here, the spirit of colour and life, of change and [that] everything is possible; it’s dynamic. Things have to die before they are resurrected – and postmodernism is being resurrected tonight.

Sarah Strickland: What are you looking forward to seeing in the exhibition? I know, Andrew, you have a piece in [the exhibition].

Andrew Logan, artist: Yes my host/hostess portrait 1973 from my ‘Alternative Miss World’…

Sarah Strickland: And what did you think of Postmodernism as a movement? Did you think you’d be coming to the V&A to see a show about it?

Zandra Rhodes, fashion designer: I think we were just led by ourselves and we didn’t know it had turned into a movement.

Sarah Strickland: Your mother, Annie Lennox, is performing tonight. Are you excited?

Tali Lennox, model: I’m so excited, I’m really proud of her. I went to see the exhibition (‘The House of Annie Lennox’) a week ago; it’s so amazing, it’s so nice for her to have something that collects up so much of her work. She’s always a great performer, she’s always really confident and it is weird because I just see her as my mum but then when I see her perform I’m like ‘wow – she’s really amazing, she’s really talented’.

Sarah Strickland: Have you managed to see the show? It only opened today, the Postmodernism show, but she has one of her outfits in there. Have you seen it?

Tali Lennox: She’s got quite a few outfits in there, she kept them in her storage room and I just go in there and play dress up all the time. I take a lot of her clothes and her jewellery. So yeah, before they were just in our house, so I had seen them all.

Malcolm Garrett, graphic designer: I’m particularly interested in what this representation of postmodernism is actually going to be about. I feel I might learn something…

Sarah Strickland: And do you think we’re all postmodern?

Malcolm Garrett: Well, in a sense… as Peter [Saville] says in the trailer, which I watched this afternoon – after modernism, where do you go? Everything is postmodern. It did get me thinking – well everything is…

Peter Ashworth, photographer: What does it mean postmodernism? What is the point at which it becomes ‘post’? I don’t know; it seemed to be a flippancy with designers, with designer’s playfulness – it was colours, it was patterns, it was architecture, it was furniture, it was everything. But it seemed to be designers playing.

Martin Roth, V&A director: The funny thing now is that I bet a lot of architects and designers [say], “no I never was a postmodernist, I never liked it”, but they all did. I think it has a lot to do with Jacques Derrida and a lot of those philosophers who try to mix styles, to mix different approaches and funnily enough everything ended with the political changes of 1990.

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Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 opened with appropriately high energy and glamour. Following an introduction from the V&A's director Martin Roth, Annie Lennox performed a series of hits, her voice reverberating beautifully around the museum's Grand Entrance. In attendance were some of Postmodernism's great achievers -- and a number of delightfully colourful characters.

In attendance were some of Postmodernism's great achievers -- and a number of delightfully colourful characters...