Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Monday, 31 October 2011

image for Victoria & Albert Museum Postmodernism: Style And Subversion 1970-1990 (And Private Eye: The First 50 Years) A Post-Postmodern Review. Postmodern - but is it art?

Historian and academic Ken Lucid jumped on the District Line and had a butcher's at a couple of exhibitions at The V&A...

Post-modern irony?

I'll tell you what's post-modern irony... the exhibition souvenir shop charging twenty quid for a T-shirt with "Protect Me From What I Want" emblazoned across the chest!

Bloody typical postmodernist cheek!

Anyway, aware that we are supposedly all a bit postmodern now, even if we are in the post-postmodern era (who invents these labels?) I thought I'd have a mosey along to South Ken with my historian's hat on.

The V&A's Postmodernism show begins with a film of some Italian burning a chair to indicate the end - destruction - of modernism. I suppose it was a "modern" chair, it was certainly all straight lines and very obviously a chair.

But I'll tell you what they should have started with - a film of the demolition of Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds. What a modernist eyesore that turned out to be: "Visions of Utopia," indeed! Hitler was impressed by them, apparently.

Funny though. Many people who lived there loved them.

Whether the West Yorkshire Playhouse complex that was built on the site is postmodern - or even an improvement - I leave to others to decide.

Well, the rest of this show is an entertaining mish-mash of the colourful and weird, demonstrating that you can't really nail down what postmodernism is/was.

Certainly there are plenty of exhibits about which all you can say is "the medium is the message," as McLuhan would have had it. You certainly couldn't have lived with some of the furniture! (I don't know... maybe the denizens of Quarry Hill Flats would have appreciated some wackily-coloured sofas and chests of drawers!)

And there are numerous efforts that would not help to dissuade the sceptical that postmodern art and design is an elaborate confidence trick perpetrated on rich collectors and the public by its makers and the self-styled cognoscenti.

But I don't want to be harsh. It's an interesting, entertaining and frequently puzzling and challenging show.

Like I said, it's difficult to pin a definition on postmodernism, so I looked it up to see what the experts say.

Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist's premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.

Thank you, allaboutphilosophy.com

The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning.

Cheers, pbs.org

And not forgetting Wikepedia...

[postmoderism] is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problem of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place.

After having had our fill of postmodernism the Empress and I nipped over to the small exhibition, Private Eye: The First 50 Years.

I lasted about five minutes before I had to get out. It was absolutely packed to the rafters. Two tiny hot rooms full of people looking at cartoons.

Now I like a good cartoon as much as the next man. But for crying out loud! How long do you need to look at one to "get it?"

There's even a mock-up of Ian Hislop's desk! Oh come on!

Got home in time to see Spurs beat QPR.

I spent the 90 minutes wondering if footballers' pay has anything to do with postmodernism. Commodification of art to the nth degree?

"Shut up, Lucid!" Commanded the supremely wise Empress.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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