Exhibitions and Events
Michele De Lucchi
Currently showing at the V&A in London is the much hyped Postmodernism exhibition, or the ‘PoMo exhibition’ as everyone seems to be calling it. I put aside my Saturday morning to go and see what all of the fuss is about; it did not disappoint. Featuring over 250 exhibits, from fashion and music, to graphics and architecture, I fell in love with the fearless spirit of the movement, the mix of questionable colours, the kitsch materials and the theatricality of it all.
However, after spending an hour walking around in dimly lit rooms filled with loud, non-functional furniture and listening to Grace Jones and Laurie Anderson on repeat, I must say, I could kind of understand why everyone was ready for a bit of minimalism in the 90s…but this didn’t stop me from indulging myself in a few 80s-themed treats from the gift shop afterwards. Here are a few of my personal highlights from the exhibition:
This is where it all begins, in 1975 when Italian architect and designer Alessadro Mendini burns one of his own 1974 Lassú chairs outside of the office of Casabella magazine. The dramatic and symbolic burning of this geometric design signaled the end of modernism and the beginning of a new era of intellectual and architectural freedom.
Designed and built for his mother in 1962 – 64, Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi House, is one of the first examples of postmodernist architecture. The house is located in the suburban neighborhood of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Painted in a duck egg blue, the triangular 30ft facade is punctuated by an over sized chimney, ‘hole in the wall’ windows and a purely decorative appliqué arch, making an otherwise humble residential building monumental in it’s appearance.
These industrial designs are prototypes by Michele De Lucchi made for Italian brand Girmi in 1979. Their pastel colours and playful forms were dreamed up by Lucchi to appear as animated characters for the home. Like many Postmodernist objects, the designs never made it into production, they were, instead, exhibited as glossy concepts in “La casa decorata (Decorated house)” at Milan XVI Triennale, 1980.
In 1981 a group of architects and designers coming from all over the world, including Michele De Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass, founded Memphis. Memphis produced and annually exhibited futuristic furniture and design objects that drew inspiration from movements such as Art Deco and Pop Art. The above teapot was made by LA based Memphis member Peter Shire. The Anchorage teapot is one in a series of glass and metal based projects by Shire made for Memphis in 1982 that explored the crossover between industrial design and fine art.
Another teapot, (they really loved teapots) this time by Italian Memphis member Marco Zanini is shown above. Made in 1983, the Colorado teapot is made up of stacked, multicoloured ceramic elements that wouldn’t look out of place at a design show today. Case in point – these student works seen at London Design Festival last month.
It was Ettore Sottsass who was credited as creating the most characteristic examples of Postmodernist design. Above is his iconic 1981 Casablanca sideboard realised in plastic laminate over fibreboard.
The Bel Air chair is said to be the most important contribution of the American designer and ceramist Peter Shire to the Memphis group. The name refers to a famous California luxury hotel, while the shark-fin back was inspired by a 1950s ‘surferbeach’ house in Malibu by the architect John Lautner.
This is the image used on the official V&A exhibition poster, which can currently be seen at every tube station across London, and also in my living room thanks to my trip through the V&A gift shop. It shows Grace Jones wearing the Constructivist Maternity Dress made for her in 1979 by her stylist boyfriend at the time Jean-Paul Goude and designer Antonio Lopez. I hope for her sake she’s got a comfortable pair of tracksuit bottoms and some Hush Puppies on underneath all that.
As the exhibition takes us into the late 80s, we see how Postmodernism collapsed under the weight of it’s own success. We saw the invention of ‘Design editing’ by firms such as Alessi and Swid Powell, who cashed-in on the success of the designers and architects of the era, producing luxury goods in their names. As London Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic explained, Postmodernism no longer shocked anyone “leaving it for the brawling crowds of elegantly tanned ladies wearing great chunks of brass around their necks”.
I love the above portrait, which shows Karl Lagerfeld in his Memphis-furnished apartment in Monte Carlo in 1981. It was in 1983 that Karl Lagerfeld took over as chief designer for Chanel and ‘postmodernised’ their previously demure collections with shorter cuts, clashing colours, and plenty of sequins. However, like everyone else, Karl’s love for Memphis faded in the early nineties when he sold the whole collection of Memphis from his apartment at auction.
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 runs until 15th January 2012 at the V&A, London.