Known for its off-beat as much as its rigorously classical exhibitions, the V&A continues to be a draw as autumn approaches. Those passionate about design should stroll to Holland Park too…
Column by Trevor Pickett
I had not expected to enjoy Plywood, the exhibition which ends on the 12th November at the V&A, quite as much as I did. The V&A’s record of clever, obscurely titled exhibitions such as Revolution – not the Russian but in fact the sexual and societal 1960s one, have in the past left me feeling a little daunted. I actually think Christine Keeler may have sat on a plywood chair for her famous photograph but I guess having been a lynch pin in Revolution the V&A passed her by for Plywood..!
In those far gone days, Swallows and Amazons and Enid Blyton were still in fashion, so when I was out on my own adventure in a dingy with a friend (yikes!), I found that it was actually made in the kitchen with, I expect, plyers and plywood. Whilst I began to wonder at my friend’s father’s level of DIY skills and my mother would no doubt have regarded the BIY (botch it yourself) job with disdain, the father was not deterred. Thus, I began to discover the many amazing uses there are for Plywood beyond simply Danish furniture, (although the use of plywood in furniture making marked a significant change in history that could in itself make for a good idea for a future exhibition..!) and so I now realise that plywood is in fact the key component in our everyday lives.
At the V&A until February 18th 2018, Balenciaga was the fashion designer of the last century who fast forwarded the cutting-edge techniques, styling and use of fabric which we often recognise in the designers of the later part of the last century – the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Andrew Courreges, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin and more recently, Hussain Chalayan. Retrospectively, this show covered almost a century of architecturally inspired wardrobes. Whilst Gaudi was constructing his Avant Garde buildings all over Barcelona, Balenciaga was doing the same with clothes in Paris and Sans Sebastian.
The V&A have a great platform and reputation for focusing on recent style, design and trends as much as show casing their impressive collection of the antique. Pink Floyd is currently in their main exhibition space; Their Mortal Remains continues until 1st October.
With the celebration of 50 years of the part legalisation of homosexuality it has been quite a summer. The BBC have certainly had come interesting programmes on both radio and TV, not without the usual controversy – listen to Radio 4’s Feedback on 20th August, even Gay Pride got a bashing after it seemed to become a Barclays Bank and Tesco platform to up their status with their diversity and equal opportunities policies! My niece and my godson’s sister, both 21, both politically sharp as knives and with a good social conscience, are just two of the many who have an opinion – and it’s good to see and hear educated, political conversation from that age group on this subject as well as the wider issues of today Though hearing that Waitrose are taking spaces at Festivals like Latitude makes me sigh and wonder where the edge has gone in life – but I guess we saw it coming after the arrival of glamping… Just like NYC it’s gone from the whiff of 1980s danger to a rather more vanilla atmosphere.
Did Rudi Giuliani kill the spirit of the city? Not that I want to be knifed, but there was a balance of the edgy before the commercial world destroyed the unusual. I guess now the imaginative in us is challenged to try and forge new territories and to create. Queer Britain at Tate Britain shows the softer and more sensitive side of homosexual inspired art – not just the hard core. For this reason I would argue that this show is not just a tribute to Tom of Finland. Although the film release on August 11th on that subject is not a genuinely gratuitous film but instead a historical art film, it is surprising to find that Finland only legalised same sex activity in 1971. The Tate shows a deeper sensual approach that reminds me of an exhibition I once saw covering the subject of the phallus in Ancient Greek art with the depiction of young and older men embracing with great physical closeness. As no art has been found explicitly depicting sexual acts, some suggest that the younger males merely desire approval and a physical closeness rather than necessarily an act of homosexuality during their late teens and early 20s. I concur as I see it as men needing a bond to have confidence and a sense of security, thus revealing within themselves a vulnerability.
In light of current events from the States, the Soul Nation Art Age Black Power at The Tate Modern until 22nd October is also extremely poignant.
The Design Museum has moved to Holland Park and it is worth visiting the new, fresh and exciting space that since 1962 had previously been the Commonwealth Institute. In my youth, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall building. A centre for education, art and learning, the new extension on Kensington High Street is a regeneration of the 1960s building. Known for his simplicity, airy quality, John Pawson was chosen as the architect to bring to life and create the exciting space as a platform for British design.