Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990

The OCA sponsored visit to the V & A on Saturday 29th October has brought me to an understanding, not necessarily a full understanding, and a deep appreciation and liking for, at least, the best of postmodernism.

One of the other dynamic shifts that I underwent was an appreciation of what I should now be considering  is my role as a photographer.  Peter, from the OCA, took time to discuss with me the fact that there is no distinction between a painter, a sculptor, a potter or any other visual artist, including photographers.  Why?  Well the fact that if you wish to consider yourself primarily as a photographer you must also encompass other art forms to create your photograph.  This means that unless all you do is photograph as a documenter of scenes, then you have to necessarily arrange objects and other things within the frame of your camera to produce your photograph.  This means that at some point in time you’ll need to draw, paint, sculpt, sew or a multitude of other jobs that form the visual arts scene to create the scene you want within your picture.  So no longer can I look upon myself as purely a photographer, my second assignment ensured I had to build scenes, and I must now consider myself as a budding artist.

So now, aside from the epiphanies I was led to, what else was there at this exhibition.  Truly one of the most remarkable design periods this century I think.  Certainly as far as architecture was concerned it was a golden age of beautiful designs.  Yes there were a great number of awful buildings erected during this period, but when e look at any period we have to look at what will, or has, endured.  This normally means that the best examples of whatever period are viewed and critiqued as exemplars of that era, and certainly this exhibition collected together some extremely fine examples from all parts of the postmodernist era.

Totem - Ettore Sottsass

One of the first items I found very attractive was ‘Totems’ by Ettore Sottsass, picture above. The pastel colours and obvious influence of North American native  art was arresting.

Engineering Building, Leicester University – James Stirling

Although Michael Graves is possibly best known as one of the worlds leading architects I was also very impressed with the  range of pottery and metal items that were shown in the same exhibition as his architectural designs, like the Engineering Building at Leicester University.  Having said that I think my overall favourite, which I spent some time examining the model of, was Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan, a complex of leisure facilities, shopping centres, showrooms and corporate offices.

Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

Canal City, Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

The largest and most splendid range of items was from the Memphis Group, now defunct, that was headed by Ettore Sottsass who attracted a group of internationally renowned designers whose outstanding design style, inspired by Pop Art and Art Deco,  drove them to become a very popular supplier of home design items for several years in the 1980’s.  Unfortunately as their fortunes declined they were driven into an even faster collapse by an extravagant design attempt using precious metals and expensive stonework which failed to attract admirers in sufficient quantity and drove the business into bankruptcy.

Memphis Design furniture and room layout

In the photography hall there was much to keep my attention engaged.  The image that I had to study really hard was ‘Airey Force’ by John Pfahl.  The reproduced image below does not do justice to the rendering he gave this picture in post processing to recreate an image true to the watercolour image he imitated.  The only thing he did to ensure no-one could possibly be unaware that his picture was manipulated was the row of large pixel blocks placed toward the top of the image.  It took me some time to find these blocks even though I was made aware of them from the description plaque, they blend in very well.

Airey Force, Lake Distric

Copyright © 2002 George Eastman House, Rochester, NY

The photograph ‘Ermanno Scervino’ by Jonathan Lewis is from a series of images depicting top retail outlets around the world.  I particularly like the pixellated effect he has applied to the pictures whilst retaining sufficient form outline to enable the viewer to make out what is behind the pixels.

Ermanno Scervino 2009 Jonathan Lewis

Anne Hardy was represented by one of her iconic pictures ‘Balloons’ which shows just how much effort needs to go into some pictures.  This was the area where I was educated by Peter about what art and photography is all about and it isn’t just taking the photograph, it’s about making the image from many talents which could include drawing, painting, sewing, construction and any other artistic method to achieve the desired scene to make your picture.

Balloons Anne Hardy

Another image that made me think a great deal was Sara Jones’s ‘The Dining Room’.  The subjects are clearly all showing varying amounts of emotion and in different ways, but the setting could easily be that of a ‘standard’ portrait.

Sarah Jones The Dining Room (Francis Place) I 1997
© Sarah Jones, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Finally, the pièce de résistance for me was the ‘Toxic Lagoon’ by Tim Head.  I think it sums up the final period of postmodernism when ‘Thatcherism’ became the symbol of all that was wrong with this late period.  The strident colours and large lumps of what appears to be wool waste give the impression of putrefying flesh and toxic chemical waste.  In fact I think this is a dying waste tank as I’ve seen similar in the Yorkshire woollen mills in the past, but it does evoke the idea of a polluted society.

artwork illustration
Toxic Lagoon – Tim Head

3 Responses to Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990

  1. Pingback: Style (and subversion) | We are OCA

  2. stevepigman says:

    Just an observation. The Leicester University Building is by James Stirling

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      My mistake, the image of the building was close to Michael Graves’s exhibits and I must have assumed it was his design, mistake now corrected. Thanks for pointing that out.

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