ARTYFACTS: Modernism - V&A

Friday, January 12, 2007

Modernism - V&A

Reflections on Modernism
Lovely spacious exhibition in the V&A with plenty of room to walk, view, read and reflect. Many curators forget about reflection, yet this is the most rewarding part of an exhibition. Reflection demands space, lighting and sometimes a place to sit. It pisses me off when curators refuse to put seats in large spaces and treat their paying audiences like sheep that have to be herded and pulsed through the experience. Is there any theory of aesthetics that says one should not spend time looking at things? Do we not pay to be stimulated into reflection?

The Chechoslovakian car, a Tatra T87, made in Czechokslovakia in 1938 (the first real production model in Europe) was beautiful with its wings and three headlights and the Frankfurt kitchen, designed to minimise walking between tasks, with every step analysed, was novel. This was a BIG show and delivered much if one had hours to spend reading, comparing and reflecting. It also had breadth - eveything from buildings, interiors, household objects, cars, print, posters, clothes - the lot.

Modernism 1914-1939
The show revealed the extent to which the Russian Revolution, and new socialist ideas, drove modernism in the 'between the wars' period. This was the force for change. The past had to be eradicated. It led to the utility of image and design. Fordism and Taylorism worshipped indutry and technology in much the same way. Curious that modernism transcended its political roots to become part of everyone's world view, espite its utopian roots.

Machines and mass production
Art is still getting to grips with the idea of masss production fighting, sometimes desperate, rearguard actions against the idea that massive and popular creation and distribution is a good thing. Scarcity and rarity are still admired.

Technophobes at heart
We live in an age where many artists are technophobes, yet Modernism celebrated technology with verve. Seeing a nine cylinder aircraft engine presented in the V&A was amusing as most of the people paying to see it wouldn't dream of popping into the free Science Museum next door to see the same exhibit. At times this conceit is all too obvious - technology is worthy of artistic treatament but I won't use it. Artists often eschew technology in their own hoems and lives. As it turned out art was helpless as painting, sculpture, stage and print were undermined by in technology driven media such as photography, film, television and now digital media.

Britain's watered down modernism
What struck me on leaving, and sitting in the train coming back to Brighton, is how relatively untouched Britain was by continental modernism. Our residential architecture remained revivalist as we developed no real taste for hiring architects. We had a pared back version of modernism. We reduced it all to chairs! Oh how we loved, and still love, modernist chairs. The Brighton Museum is full of them! Later we would hide our traditional interiors by pannelling our doors and stripping out Victorian features but few would ever actually build or live in a modernist house. Except, of course, those who didn't have a choice and were caged up in high flats. Britain has never done tall buldings well.

Technology eats itself
Modernism's fate? Ultimately technology ate itself. Computerisation, minituarisation and design made the mechanics of technology invisible. It was all small and hidden. The iPOD does away with the mecahnics and presents a smooth, simple, slick surface. What modernism once celebrated was ultimately invisible.


Post a Comment

<< Home