What is Luxury?

December 9, 2014

‘What is Luxury?’ is the final exhibition in a triennial series organised in collaboration with the Crafts Council. It follows from the successful ‘Power of Making’ in 2011.

Marcin Rusak (concept Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby) Time For Yourself, 2013 ©Marcin Rusak
Marcin Rusak(concept Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby), Time For Yourself, 2013, © Marcin Rusak

This exhibition is not focused on luxury consumption. Given that the V&A is located in one of the most consolidated areas of luxury consumption from food to property, we curators felt that adding to that would contribute little to the current luxury debate. Instead we decided that inquiry seems rather valuable in reflecting on motifs and motivations of present luxury production to highlight the investment on side of the maker and enable speculations about possible futures. Such speculations reflect on our current relationship to luxury, and have the power to direct our thinking, provoke consequential developments and suggest alternatives. Our curatorial approach is based on an understanding that meanings of luxury change according to social, cultural and economic contexts.

Chasuble, 1670-95, V&A: 743-1870 The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Chasuble, 1670-95, Museum no. 743-1870

We have taken the question in the title seriously, but instead of attempting to provide a definition of luxury, we will offer a terminology as structuring principle. By doing so, we hope to highlight and question aspects and interpretations of luxury.

The exhibition will be divided into four consecutive sections: Creating Luxury, A Space for Time, A Future for Luxury, and What is Your Luxury? It will start with the premise that luxury production implies and represents an investment in time and the application of skills. We have selected a variety of objects which we will display in paired juxtapositions. Each of these will be dedicated to a specific term, such as precision, passion and exclusivity. Many of the objects will be expected examples in the context of luxury, such as a mechanical watch and example of fine lace embroidery, and equally many of the terms will resonate with popular discourse. However, the organisation of the objects into less expected pairings in relation to the terminology will be used to challenge established categories and conventional interpretations.

This will be followed by a small section where we will address luxury’s fundamental relationship to space and time. In addition to time understood as the investment in making objects, it becomes a quality and thing in itself as luxury is increasingly defined by experiences of time spent and its availability. With experiences, locations also come into focus. By drawing attention to the importance of time and place, we will question routines and systems of the everyday, and their flexibility to allow for a desire of the extraordinary and non-essential.

Gangjian Cui, The Rise of the Plasticsmith, 2014, ©Gangjian Cui
Gangjian Cui, The Rise of the Plasticsmith, 2014, © Gangjian Cui

A Future for Luxury will focus on the important relationship between luxury and value. Speculations about the future provide insight into how luxury is not a stable category, but has a number of meanings which are constantly changing and responding to new social, economic and ecological paradigms. For instance, in a post-industrial future where the world’s supply of petrochemicals has been exhausted, could plastic become a highly valuable material and what skills would we need to work with it? With a focus on materials, the chosen art and design objects will provoke connections of luxury to issues like access, privacy and memory.

The final section asks the concrete question: What is Your Luxury? One single project will highlight the importance of individual freedom, aspiration and dream for any decision about luxury.

Our following blog entries will introduce a selection of objects and projects of the exhibition, expanding upon the interpretation provided within the exhibition, as well as an insight into curatorial decisions and discussions with designers, makers, artists and the whole exhibition team.

5 comments so far, view or add yours


What a fantastically wonderful thought and curation around ‘Luxury’ as a subject.
Well done – I am sure the exhibition is going to be as wonderful as the basic thought !
We are a luxury focussed company based in New Delhi, India. Amongst other things, we also operate India’s first and only Luxury B School. Will be happy to learn from your results and share with our students.
Please keep us informed.

Wish you all the very best !
abhay gupta

We have in Creta Island a very luxury product: The weavings from loom.
7.000 years ago , and still now ,same technics.,same symbols,same looms,same history.
7.000 years of very luxuries costumes etc.

I hope the exhibition was a success and it is great the Venetian lace there! Luxury and value are two things that don’t necessarily have to hand in hand and it is important that we can all see that.

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