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What item/s would you exhibit in your personal Design museum?

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What item/s would you exhibit in your personal Design museum? - Page 2 Empty Re: What item/s would you exhibit in your personal Design museum?

Post  eddie Fri Mar 30, 2012 8:09 pm

British design in the modern age: from punk bands to boom-time brands

Has the V&A's new show captured British design from 1948 to now? Justin McGuirk enters a world of spindly furniture, punk safety pins – and plastic chicken coops

Justin McGuirk, Monday 26 March 2012 18.55 BST

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Austerity in the UK … Jamie Reid’s God Save the Queen poster for the Sex Pistols (1977). Photograph: © Jamie Reid/Victoria & Albert Museum

In 1948, still reeling from the war, Britain steeled itself and cobbled together the first Olympic games of the postwar era. The London Olympics were known as the "austerity games", and yet proved a triumph of resourcefulness. It's with this moment that the Victoria & Albert museum begins its new survey exhibition, British Design 1948–2012 – an irresistible conceit, as London counts down to its second Olympics.

The other key moment in British design was the Festival of Britain in 1951. Then, Britain finally grasped the modernist nettle, seeking to drive manufacturing with a genuine design culture; now, a Britain that is renowned for its design (and not its manufacturing) is about to embark on an Olympic celebration that feels more like the culmination of something than its beginning.

The austerity may be back, but it is difficult to overstate the scale of the political shift that has occurred. The Festival of Britain was the brainchild of a Labour government forging the welfare state; the 2012 Olympics are presided over by a coalition government dismantling what's left of it. Some of this show rubs our noses in that polarity. Here is Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert's 1957 design for the national road signage system, going on show the week after it was announced that roads may be privatised. Here are London county council's ambitious postwar social housing programmes, whose corollary today are the "luxury" apartment blocks thrown up by private developers. Then it was the technological finesse of the 300ft Skylon tower; now we have the oligarchical vanity of the Mittal-Orbit structure on the Stratford site, by Anish Kapoor. The exhibition illustrates not just the history of British design, but of British politics.

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Robin Day’s CS17 television from 1957. Photograph: © V&A Images

In a show of such scope, there is an understandable tendency to fall back on the greatest hits. On one level, British Design is a sequence of cliches that we are familiar with. The 1950s are all spindly furniture and molecular patterns; the 60s are about two Minis (a car and a skirt); and the 70s careen from punk's safety pins to Concorde (the only piece of technology in the show that hasn't been surpassed). The 80s are represented by Peter Saville's album covers for Factory Records and a little piece of Manchester's Hacienda nightclub (whose designer, Ben Kelly, also designed this exhibition). Meanwhile, Cool Britannia and the obsession with branding takes care of the 90s, here represented by objects from Pharmacy, the restaurant Damien Hirst opened in London in 1998. (Always more about money and PR than it was about art or design, this episode sits uncomfortably with the rest of the show. But then the "real" design of the period is not much better: if Michael Young's aluminium and vinyl Magazine sofa, which belongs in a tacky nightclub's VIP area, is the pinnacle of 1990s furniture design, the decade itself was not a high point.)

There is little in the way of revisionism or controversy here; but if the objects are overfamiliar, the subtexts running through them are less so. Avoiding a simplistic chronology, the curators have chosen to define the characteristics of British design thematically. The middle section of the show focuses on subversion. From the late 1960s, a younger generation of creative talent fostered in the British art school system began reacting against the paternalistic impulses of the postwar rebuilders, swapping consensus for dissent. From pop music to fashion, the alternative was suddenly the answer. Samples here include David Bowie and the outlandish outfits of glam rock, the Sex Pistols' anti-aesthetic, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon's salvaged-metal furniture. You could throw in the architecture of Zaha Hadid who, before she was a star, was a kind of one-woman subculture. Hadid spent decades in the wilderness, failing to get her deconstructivist designs built. This anti-authoritarian streak, by turns camp and punk, has become one of the defining features of Britain's cultural self-image; it's a spiky brand identity that Wolff Olins' Olympic logo has attempted to make official.

The role recession has played in shaping Britain's design identity is one of the more revealing themes. The Festival of Britain was conceived as a means of stimulating the economy, while punk and the creative salvage scene were born of the economic crises of the 1970s and early 80s. In 1986, James Dyson had to take his famous vacuum cleaner design to Japanese manufacturer Apex, because no recession-weakened British manufacturer would take it on. Industrial decline is a bigger story, of course, and yet many of the innovations of the last three decades have been responses to it. When the Sinclairs and Amstrads of Britain's personal computer industry could no longer compete with America and Japan, they moved from software to hardware. Today, British computer game designers are lead players in an industry that's now worth more than Hollywood, responsible for such successes as Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto.

How does the story end? What does a show that is part of the flag-waving runup to the Olympics tell us about British design today? In the end, not that much, partly because it is drawn mainly from the V&A's own collection, and museum collections are weakest when it comes to contemporary artefacts.

The last decade is much richer than you would think from the few pieces shown here; as the show approaches the present, the narrative threads that run so richly through the rest – of tradition versus modernity, of youth versus authority – begin to fray. The Olympic buildings are here, as well as a plastic chicken coop manufactured by Omlet in Britain (a huge commercial success). The latter at least raises the question of whether manufacturing might start to return from Asia, now the costs of outsourcing are rising.

Troika's Falling Light installation (2010), a programmed chandelier that precipitates light like raindrops, is probably the most representative example of contemporary British design. Neither a product nor an artwork, this is innovative for its own sake and was made by a group of designers from France and Germany living in London. It shows us that the boundaries of design are dissolving, and that it is time for us to dispense with the notion of "British design" altogether. The UK's design scene is now nothing if not international, and London, in particular, is a magnet for talent from all over Europe. The question is, once the Olympics are behind us (and we have another recession to kick against), how will design in Britain reinvent itself again?
The Gap Minder

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Post  eddie Sat Mar 31, 2012 1:40 am

The best of British design

From the Mini to the iMac, the V&A celebrates six decades of innovation. Fiona MacCarthy, the Guardian's design writer when the country discovered its sense of style, reflects on a long tradition of iconoclasm and inventiveness

Fiona MacCarthy, Friday 23 March 2012 22.44 GMT

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Red hot … the Mini, designed by Alec Issigonis, 1959. Photograph: BMC/V&A

This year's V&A blockbuster exhibition focuses on British design and innovation. It should be a great show but they have chosen the wrong starting point in making an embarrassingly opportunistic link back to the 1948 London Olympics. The time line should have started two years earlier with the Britain Can Make It exhibition, which not only gave the public its first sight of postwar modern, setting the style for the Festival of Britain, but was actually held at the V&A itself.

Britain Can Make It was a statement of faith. When the exhibition was planned the war was scarcely over. The museum stood empty and bomb-damaged. Even replacing the windows meant diverting London's next two months' entire supply of glass. The theme was the turning of swords into ploughshares, with ingenious displays of British products evolved from new materials and processes developed in the war. The show was hugely popular. The king and queen made a special journey from Balmoral to marvel at a new type of aluminium saucepan displayed beside the exhaust stub of a wrecked Spitfire, and inflatable reclining chairs lined up with dummy weapons. These were proud design innovations of victory. Oh to have been there!

It was a time of touching certainties. Extraordinary to think that the government-supported Council of Industrial Design (COID) was set up before the war's end to encourage good design in British industry. No one troubled to enquire what constituted good design or indeed, more specifically, good British design. They knew it in their bones. It was William Morris's design view gone modern. Design pundits of the period believed implicitly in old Arts and Crafts values of the measured and the modest. Official thinking was embodied in the tweedy twinkling figure of COID Director Gordon Russell, himself a Cotswold craftsman. Shoddiness and showiness were beyond the pale.

For many people, both designers and the public, the Festival of Britain in 1951 came as a revelation. Memoirs of the time stress the unexpected visual excitement of the South Bank exhibition with its free-flowing piazzas, its cafés and walkways dominated by the early space age structure of the Skylon. The atmosphere is captured in old newsreels of couples dancing out on the Fairway through the summer evenings. The festival was gay in the old sense. People loved the zinging colours: orange, lemon and lime green. Ernest Race's jaunty steel rod chairs gave a new sense of possibility to those who up to now had only known Utility. The craving for British "contemporary" furnishing began.

How British in fact was the Festival of Britain? Analysed strictly the answer is "not very". There was lip service in the South Bank exhibition to the English 18th-century picturesque tradition with its vistas and surprises. But on the whole the style of the architecture, cajolingly co-ordinated by a young Hugh Casson, was a gentle form of European modern. A surprisingly high proportion of the architects, designers and artists employed in the Festival were foreigners by birth and professional training. Many of these – FHK Henrion, George Fejer, Stefan Buzás, Peter Moro, Bronek Katz, architect of the Homes and Gardens Pavilion – had first arrived in Britain as political refugees in the decade before the war.

But what did make the festival so absolutely British was its sense of moral fervour. As Michael Frayn defined it in a wonderful essay "Rainbows over the Thames" (recently republished in Frayn's Travels with a Typewriter) the festival was "herbivore" Britain in action, a project of the left-leaning do-gooders of the period intent on creating improved living conditions for a nation just surfacing from wartime suffering.

Better homes for the people were high on the agenda. Early visitors were transported by river bus to Poplar to marvel at the show houses of the Lansbury Estate, promise of the coming New Towns, such as Harlow. Just along the river bank from the South Bank exhibition rose the purpose-designed people's culture palace of the Royal Festival Hall. The impulse of the time leads us back to William Morris and his radical art-for-the-people politics. The Festival of Britain was a visionary moment when many young British designers and architects discovered their idealistic metier.

In another two years the scene had changed completely. Clement Attlee's Labour government was ousted, the socialist landmarks of the South Bank site demolished. All was pomp and ceremony by 1953, the year in which the young Queen Elizabeth was crowned. The V&A exhibition promises to analyse the rapid shifts of mood, the creative interplay of innovation and tradition in our British design history. It's an interesting idea, though a hard one to bring off. The really fascinating thing about that coronation, watched by so many on their newly bought TVs, was its sheer finesse and professionalism, exploiting the skills of photography, dress design and staging to uphold the status quo of monarchy. Such visual manipulations still continue, as we saw in the beautifully synchronised royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

It was really only in the 1950s that design began to be identified as a profession. The postwar reorganisation of the Royal College of Art under a dynamic new rector, Robin Darwin, meant that students were now being trained specifically to design the products being made by British industry. Designers raised their profile, became recognised and glamorous. Most glamorous of all were the Days, Robin and Lucienne, who were actually featured together in a Smirnoff vodka ad. Both the Days were exceptionally good designers. Robin's furniture and Lucienne's textiles had a freshness and intelligence outstanding in their time. But their fame also arose from the fact that they were married, a designer couple both pursuing their professions, independent though related. The Days exemplified emerging social patterns with which design has been inextricably entwined.

Design had been a quiet thing in this early period. People were still biddable, visiting the Design Centre in Haymarket before they made a purchase, surveying the products selected as good British design by official committees and marked with the black-and-white triangular swing ticket of approval (itself a fine example of the graphics of the time). These official approved products – convertible settees, refrigerators, coffee percolators – had a uniform sedateness. Edward Heath was seen in the Design Centre making earnest notes.

Then all of a sudden earnestness was over. I was the Guardian's design correspondent in the mid-1960s so I had a ringside seat as the primness of Design Centre selectiveness gave way to eclecticism, jollity, pastiche. The swinging sixties ethos took over so quickly. One week I was reporting Design Centre awards; the next I was writing an analysis of London's takeover by gonks. The design hierarchy was faced with a dilemma identified by the then COID director Paul Reilly in an anguished article "The Challenge of Pop".

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Cabinet and chair, designed by Max Clendinning, 1965. Photograph: V&A Images

I saw Habitat open in 1964. This was Terence Conran's first shop for "switched-on people", introducing a new interpretation of the modern which was not clean-lined correctness but comfort and robustness. Conran's word for it was "gutsy". The style espoused by Conran was not strictly British but reflected the exuberant romance of the Mediterranean street market. London was going through a phase of Francophilia. Len Deighton's cookstrip Où est le garlic? was a comparable figment of the time.

There has been much debate recently, with Conran reaching 80, on his real influence on design in Britain. I am in no doubt that his crucial importance has been in giving the British their own confidence in making a personal environment for living. Conran successfully commercialised the concept of "the art that is life" first formulated by John Ruskin. He taught us the putting together of a look.

It is quite feasible to castigate the 60s for its flashiness, its sexism, its irritating silliness. But in the context of design what I most remember was a glorious sense of excitement and relief. After late 50s frumpiness and frowziness there was a kind of heaven in the sheer precision of a geometric Vidal Sassoon haircut and a minimalist Mary Quant striped gym slip. The two-door Mini car designed for BMC by Issigonis; the E-type Jaguar; the "Stowaway" Moulton bicycle. Then there was Concorde. These were beautiful, technically innovative products that became almost the symbols of a modern youthful Britain. It was at this moment that British design acquired the confidence and daring other nations still attempt to emulate.

They were hippy times too. Alongside the hard-edged modern, the zippiness and cheek was the return to droopiness, Pre-Raphaelite soulfulness and the renewed quest for spiritual values and perfection of making. There was an enormous resurgence in the crafts together with a yearning for the simple, more contemplative life away from London. In the 1970s the Guardian valiantly published my four-part survey of far-flung British craft workshops, featuring dedicated furniture-makers, jewellers and weavers, wood turners, basket makers and the multitude of potters working in the mystical tradition of Bernard Leach. British design has been closely allied to the process of making and it could be said that this is still its strength.

But sheer anarchic vigour has also been a factor. The V&A curators, Christopher Breward and Ghislaine Wood, set out to tell a tale in which the straight up-and-down values of old time "good design" were gradually subverted, transformed, re-energised to the point at which British imaginative wildness became one of the wonders of the world. They're certainly right to have fixed the starting point for the invention of anarchy at the famous Independent Group exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.

They are also correct to relate the growing mania for cocking a snook at the establishment to the "impulsive radicalism" of the British art school scene. A cult of student disrespect was burgeoning within the art school system, which had much expanded by the later 60s. This hatred of authority became a prime artistic motif in that period of creative provocation. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened their first shop, Let it Rock, in 1971, drawing on the stylistic chaos of British teenage fashion, mixing media, mixing messages, with the proviso that all of them were rude.

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God Save the Queen poster promoting the Sex Pistols, designed by Jamie Reid, 1977 Photograph: Jamie Reid/Victoria & Albert Museum

Six years later the artist Jamie Reid designed his Never Mind the Bollocks album cover for the Sex Pistols. There were consciously startling realignments of street culture, fashion, art, graphics and punk music, reflected in the magazines i-D and the Face, directed by the brilliantly anarchic graphic designer Neville Brody from 1981. Though to some the cult of disrespect was hideously shocking, in fact it is endemic to the national character. We have only to think of Gillray's 18th-century anti-monarchical cartoons to see it as a healthy and indeed a necessary part of Britishness.

British design had been born out of a hope of improving design standards in industry. By the mid 80s such simple good intentions were evaporating fast. Living as I was in Sheffield, I was well aware of the rapid decline of the manufacturing that had once sustained that city of the metal trades. Huge warehouses stood empty, factories closed down. It was a scene of desolation repeated right through Britain as other towns and cities wedded to manufacturing lost their raison d'être.

But design in Britain has had a great resilience. This became a period of creative nihilism, of art out of the debris. Tom Dixon's Creative Salvage exhibition featured furniture welded from rusting scrap metal. Ben Kelly's transformation of an abandoned warehouse in Manchester into the now legendary Hacienda club closely linked to the rise of acid house and rave music, helped to resurrect the city, managing to rebrand Manchester as the epitome of cool.

The Thatcher years have been viewed by design purists as an abysmal period of decline. Certainly the so-called "creative industries", with their attendant large corporate design teams, tended to deal more in image than in substance. We do not need to ask what Ruskin would have thought of them. But the 80s were not wholly bland. Young British fashion designers were in demand, acclaimed for their originality and strangeness. It was back in 1984 that John Galliano was recruited by Givenchy on the strength of his Central St Martin's student show based on a French revolutionary street scene. When he moved to Dior, Galliano was succeeded by another recent British fashion graduate, Alexander McQueen. The leading French couture houses became dependent on romantically fervid British fantasies and dreams.

We need to recognise how much British design has been done for foreign companies. The veteran industrial designer Kenneth Grange, a star of the period covered by the exhibition at the V&A, appears at first sight the epitome of Britishness, son of an East End policeman, designer of the High-Speed Train (the InterCity 125) and London taxi. Yet much of his best work was manufactured in Japan.

With British designers wanted by foreign companies and foreign design students flocking to our art schools, nationalistic distinctions are eroded. Zaha Hadid's sinuous Aquatics Centre is the most spectacular of the London Olympic buildings. Hadid, born in Iraq and trained at London's Architectural Association, continues to work in London. But her style of architecture is intrinsically global. The question the V&A show poses is whether in a world of fast-moving visual communication British design has qualities that make it recognisably British any more.

What we do have in this country is a long tradition of dogged inventiveness, going as far back as Brunel and the great Victorian engineer-constructors. British design history is full of brilliant boffins, manic problem-solvers working for that great eureka moment. Think of Barnes Wallis and those bouncing bombs in wartime, James Dyson developing the bagless vacuum cleaner that revolutionised the species. From the Sinclair ZX80 home computer of 1980 to Jonathan Ive's iMac for Apple, British design has had a constant fascination with exploring the far reaches of possibility.

Recent large-scale exhibitions at the V&A have been analyses of styles from Arts and Crafts and art deco to postmodernism. Enjoyable and expert as these were, British Design is a great deal more ambitious and potentially important. Our proven prowess in design has become a crucial factor in our hopes for economic recovery. Meanwhile, enticingly, the exhibition offers a colossal panorama of our collective visual memories.
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