☆Victoria & Albert Museum Task

☆V&A Research and questions

Modernism research

The term Modernism encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.

Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Modernism was a revolt against the conservative values of realism. Arguably the most paradigmatic motive (motif) of modernism is the rejection of tradition and its reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms. Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment thinking and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator God in favor of the abstract, unconventional, largely uncertain ethic brought on by modernity. [1]


Postmodernism Research

‘The term “Postmodernism” comes from its critique of the “Modernist” scientific mentality of objectivity and the progress associated with the Enlightenment.'[2]

“Postmodernism” is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism, and design. It has also influenced marketing, business and the interpretation of law, culture, and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Postmodernism, particularly as an academic movement, can be understood as a reaction to modernism in the Humanities.

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characterisitic of the so-called “modern” mind. 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. As the philospher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.”[3]







1. In the exhibition, Postmodernism, Style and Subversion, list three examples in which postmodern design has ‘appropriated’ or sampled the style of earlier eras. What is the effect of this sampling, in each case? In what ways have this sampling been political? 

Postmodernism is considered as perhaps one of the most controversial movements in art and design history. Postmodern design is a movement which defies definition, it has appropriated the style of earlier eras as it is constituted of an unstable mix of the theatrical and theoretical. Postmodernism unlike modernism’s utopian visions, [which was based on clarity] has many different faces such as colourful and ruinous, ludicrous and luxurious.

 Its key principles were complexity and contradiction. It was meant to resist authority, yet over the course of two decades, from about 1970 to 1990, it became enmeshed in the very circuits of money and influence that it had initially sought to dismantle.

The 1960s and 1970s saw widespread experimentation with architectural styles from the past, often described as ‘historicism’. This tendency was criticised by hostile critics as a retreat, as pastiche or as merely ironic.

In its early years, postmodern architecture was not a statement of mere humour, or cynicism for that matter. On the contrary, it could be radically expansive and optimistic, or inspired by an elegiac sense of the past that modernism had excluded. Postmodernism lived up to its central aim: to replace a monolithic idiom with a plurality of competing ideas and styles.


 2. What does the exhibition Postmodernism, Style and Subversion imply about Modernism? Use what references you find as a starting point to examine three key characteristics of modernist art.

I came across many interesting facts in the exhibition which intrigued me, one in particular was the theory of the ‘death of modernism’ proclaimed by Charles Jencks.

The death of modernism has been proclaimed on countless occasions. For historian Charles Jencks, it ended at 3.32pm on 15 March 1972, when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis,Missouri, was dynamited.

Designed by the Japanese-American architect Minori Yamasaki, the modernist Pruitt-Igoe had become crime-ridden, impoverished and uninhabitable. It was destroyed only 16 years after its completion.

In his book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), Jencks concluded that the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe marked the end of modernist idealism: ‘Let us then romp through the desolation of modern architecture, visiting the archaeological sites with a superior disinterest. After all, since it is fairly dead, we might as well enjoy picking over the corpse.’[1]

Another interesting section of the exhibition was the works of Alessandro Mendini

-1914-Simple throne which he set alight

The burning chair was on the front cover of Domus magazine, like a phoenix, to give birth to the art movement.

In his words, it was a passage from ‘object to relic, matter to memory’. The nihilistic gesture posed an implicit question: ‘If modernist idealism was dead, what possibilities might arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes?’

[1]Charles Jencks quote


3. Which act signalled the death of Modernism, according to the historian Charles Jencks

Charles Jencks argued that ‘the crisis of modernist functionalism is what you call “the death of modernism”

“Afterall, since it is fairly dead, we might aswell enjoy picking over the corpse”Charles Jencks


4. The exhibition contains examples of artists who have used postmodern style to explore issues of personal and gender identity. Choose two examples and describe how they have done this.

As the 1980s approached, postmodernism went into high gear. What had begun as a radical fringe movement became the dominant look of the ‘designer decade’. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration: everything was a style statement. Whether surfaces were glossy, faked or deliberately distressed, they reflected the desire to combine subversive statements with commercial appeal.

The most important delivery systems for this new phase in postmodernism were magazines and music. The work of Italian designers – especially the groups Studio Alchymia and Memphis– travelled round the world through publications like Domus. Meanwhile, the energy of post-punk subculture was broadcast through music videos and cutting-edge graphics. This was the moment of the New Wave: a few thrilling years when image was everything.



Punk fashion has been extremely commercialized at various times, and many well-established fashion designers — such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier — have used punk elements in their production. Punk clothing, which was initially handmade, became mass produced and sold in record stores and some smaller specialty clothing stores by the 1980s.

The original punk fashions of the 1970s were intended to appear as confrontational, shocking and rebellious as possible.

The style of Punk helped emphasise on individual’s personal and gender identity as it embraces the inner extreme styles, accepting women with punk hairstyles as opposed to what is considered as ‘feminine’ styles and men with outrageous make up, long hair or feminine styles.

Other elements that have recently been associated with the postmodern mode include ‘clothing and imagery that appear dirty, ripped, scarred, shocking, spectacular, cruel, traumatized, sick, or alienating13—all of these were qualities actively sought by Vivienne Westwood and the punks of the 1970s’.[1]

Rei Kawakubo shared Vivienne Westwoods’s subversive views in her own designs, as illustrated with her 1982 Jumper and Skirt. She wanted to declare beauty in the random and unfinished, again confronting the Modernist idea of perfection and order. To us, this brings up a powerful notion. The idea of confronting conformity and challenging society and social norms through the way in which we dress is an issue which has long been fought for in history and at continues today.

Postmodernsim can also be seen through celebrated figures such as Grace Jones who moulded herself into a newly subversive form of celebrity, her iconic photographs and ‘Maternity Dress’ are on display.



 5. In the House of Annie Lennox you will find a T-shirt with the slogan HIV Positive written on it. How does Lennox describe her rationale for wearing this T-shirt? In what ways can this be considered a political action?

This one-room display explores the image and creative vision of Annie Lennox, whose music and personal style is internationally renowned. On display are costumes and accessories worn by Lennox, photographs, personal treasures and awards etc.

☆Explanation of the HIV positive shirt

‘This T-shirt, whoever wears it, is making a statement of solidarity,’ Lennox says.

To some, no doubt, it seemed like a provocative statement to make on a reality show, but Lennox has been wearing the shirt for years. The message is intended as a statement of solidarity with HIV- and AIDS-afflicted people in sub-Saharan Africa

Lennox is on a mission to fight the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which brings with it “a lot of secrecy and a lot of silence,” she added. “What we need to do it to normalize the disease, so it can be just like any other disease.”

Had Lennox turned around during her “Idol Gives Back” performance of her new song, “Universal Child,” fans’ worries would have been wisked away. The back of the T-shirt read, “Fighting HIV/AIDS.”[1]

In a country like South Africa, where HIV is so prevalent, and yet you have stigma where people are afraid to openly come out and say that they’re HIV positive. This t-shirt, whoever wears it, is making a statement of solidarity, and they’re saying, ‘We’re coming out from behind the shadows. We’re trying to normalize what is a preventable thing. It doesn’t need to have the stigma.’”[2]

This can be considered a political action as she helps brings this issue of HIV out into the open which can be quite controverisial in some countries or considering some religions. She wants to spread the word that people need to literally ‘come out of the shadows’ as quoted above [from an interview].




6. What other questions does Annie Lennox raise through her use of fashion?

Annie Lennox is celebrated as one of the finest musical voices of our time and one of the most successful female British artists in UK music history. An innovator, icon and performer, her success has spanned four decades and she is internationally renowned both for her music and her personal style.

The House of Annie Lennox is an immersive and intimate display which explores the image and creative vision of the artist. There is a small selection of costumes and accessories worn by Lennox, together with photographs, personal treasures and awards, ephemera from the political campaigns she has championed, music videos and a specially commissioned video of Annie in conversation.

Annie Lennox by Satoshi Saikusa

Annie Lennox represented the ‘new freedom postmodernism’ and  brought with regard to gender norms, and included in the exhibition is Annie Lennox’s ‘Tartan Suit’, a symbol of androgyny(having both male and female characteristics).

The outfits on display are an assortment of styles, designs, fabrics and structure, and are highly representative of the unique approach Annie expresses through costume and performance to explore ideas of reality, illusion and gender identity- these can be considered as the questions raised through her use of fashion. Through Lennox’s fashion statements, she could be raising other questions such as whether gender equality ‘exists’ due to for example, wearing her androgyny ‘Tartan Suit’ as a symbol of this.

(Roland Klein states  that we don’t wear clothes to simply cover ourselves. They have meaning and can affect the way we feel. It occurred to us that the postmodernist movement incorporates this notion, expressing the idea that clothes play an important part in the social world and can be used to challenge social norms, and in this case, modernism. They are not simply there to cover us.)

Inside Annie Lennox house


 7. In what ways can the photographers whose work is exhibited in the V&A Photography Gallery be described as postmodernist?

This room contains displays drawn from the national collection of the art of photography at the V&A. The Museum’s photography collection is one of the largest and most important in the world. It is international in scope and ranges from the beginnings of photography to the present. The main part of the room shows highlights from the history of photography.

Postmodernism is described as emphasizing the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. Looking upon the photography in this gallery, you could clearly see that each photographic image has a hidden story and message- for example, there was a piece of photographic images by Johnathan Lewis- which showed a series of simple photos of different vegetables arranged on a table. These shots show the decaying of the vegetables after a period of time, which in a sanse could be described as postmodernism because postmodernism itself is described as  ‘apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change’, and the decay of the vegetables is symbolic of this.


8. How has your visit to the V&A shaped your thinking about the research you need to do for your Time Travel project? What questions might you now ask about the decades assigned to you?

The trip to the V&A was an amazing experience, although I have brief knowledge surrounding Modernism and Postmodernism due to studied Sociology in the past, this has widened my knowledge at a greater extent. Also, by providing inspirations for my Time Travel project as I am not so familiar with these eras. A question I may ask associated with the decades given is the relation between art and political movements, how this has affected or developed and shaped people’s ways of thinking.


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