The blockbuster exhibition for this season at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (the institution dedicated to craft, fashion and style throughout the ages) comes with a surprisingly queer influence, although not as much as it truly deserves.
Spanning over two decades of postmodernism across architecture, fashion, music and product design; the exhibition offers a comprehensive (if a little disjointed) overview of one of the trickiest ‘movements’ to define. With all due credit, the show does a fantastic job of this; giving the visitor a notable sense that this was a time where anything goes. Appreciation for classicism, kitsch and low-brow culture could exist side by side. In the words of the exhibition ‘(Postmodernism)…replaces a monolithic idiom with a plurality of competing ideas and styles…”
What pleasantly surprised me upon visiting the exhibition was the amount of iconic queer culture that was placed in the forefront. In one room alone, we have Klaus Nomi placed alongside Grace Jones facing Leigh Bowery, each given their own place in the mainstream breakthrough of postmodernism throughout the 1980′s. It is clear why these figures would be seen as key in the commercialisation of postmodern thought (although, arguably, Grace Jones was the biggest success). Each of them highlighted diversity, their own differences becoming a commodity in the money-driven decade they worked in. A quote by Kate Linker sums up their inclusion in the canon of the exhibition perfectly. “(Their)…shimmering synthetic appearances that flaunt their artificial origins”. These are the characters of the decade that were proud of their diversity, producing extravagant characters that used the bricolage aesthetic whilst staying true to their ‘club kids’ roots. A true representation of a breakthrough act.
But whilst I’m happy that these figures have their place in the exhibition (as it made my day to see more conservative visitors ponder the videos of Grace Jones and Laurie Anderson); I still felt as though something was lacking in the appreciation of them. I think this could possibly be a ‘glossing over’ of the depth of their work. The 1980′s was at the forefront of the gender-bending commodity and the arrival of queer in popular culture; yet nothing in the exhibition explains why this was. Perhaps I am asking too much, or perhaps I just can’t appreciate or understand fully what is already there? After all, this is about postmodernism – not queer culture. Or perhaps the limited timeframe of the exhibition restricts these ideas. Maybe a more critical time was post-80′s, when queer found a place in mainstream past ‘the other’.
Regardless of this, I highly recommend the exhibition. If you are in London, or are planning to visit, I would come along to see some great pieces and also a fantastic curatorial experience. The whole exhibition design seems like a cross between a Las Vegas hotel and 1980′s underground club. Which seems more than fitting for a subject so multi-faceted as Postmodernism.