May 9, 2012
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London show celebrates modern age design innovation

May 9, 2012

LONDON - The Jaguar E-type, an LED dress and Concorde lead visitors through the last 60 years of British design in this summer's flagship exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Anarchy in the UK T-shirt, by Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren / Photo: Victoria & Albert Musuem

Delving deep into its collection, the museum has put on display examples of British innovation, some of which have never been shown before.

Everything from household knives and forks, to a Sex Pistols' album cover takes you through the last six decades, tracing the art school movement from the utilitarian mundane to the rock-n-roll rebels.

Coinciding with the 2012 Olympics, the exhibition reaches back to the "austerity" Olympics of 1948, creating one of the first shows exclusively about Britain's post-war design culture.

"In a time of great anxiety over the recession now, I think it is interesting to look over those 60 years and see how Britain responded to recession before...it is a complicated development and much creativity has come out of these moments of great discomfort," curator Ghislaine Wood told Reuters.

The moment when design becomes art is captured in the dimly lit "subversion" room where pastel minidresses make way for safety pins and punk spikes.

Fashion designer Hussein Chalayan's fantastically impractical, but deeply symbolic egg-shaped dress of 2000 brings this message to a head, and still looks modern today.

"We commissioned that piece 13 years ago and it's an astonishing piece of design that makes you question the role of fashion and art and the way that the boundaries of these disciplines are really breaking down," Wood said.

But it is the chair display that really gives a sense of chronological innovation - long considered the gold standard of design, the incredible collection of living room furniture provides insight into changing fashion, taste and cultural mores through the decades.

The boxy, synthetic chair of the 1960s gives way to a chair with legs in the shape of a rusty dagger, summing up the rough aesthetic of the 1980s. Nearby, a chair made of dozens of carefully assembled wood scraps is a nod to the modern penchant for designs which are greener.

The last gallery focuses on manufacturing culture. A wall-mounted telephone, the like of which graced so many homes for decades, makes way for a sample iPhone, hung nearby. A large model of Concorde, and an accompanying video chronicling its failings, takes up the other half of the gallery.

In a darkened "digital lab" fictional tomb raider Lara Croft clambers up a crumbled temple wall and swings on a jungle vine - in an example of British video crafting at the top of its game.

Lemmings tumble off a cliff into a black abyss, as the 20 plus age group, reminisce about early computer games, and smile at the astonishingly bulky desktop Apple Mac computer that was the height of chic only 10 years ago.

But there is one design that really endures. The silver Jaguar E-type glistening in the middle of the room.

"That design has stood the test of time," Wood said, recalling the day it was driven into the gallery and the effect it has on visitors when they come across.

"To hear audiences step into that last room and see the E-type Jaguar, which is of course one of the most beautiful cars ever designed, to see audiences as they step around that corner gasping, is brilliant," Wood said.

"That just shows you the power of design."

The Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Rd British Design, 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, until August 2012.

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