British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age will celebrate the best of British post-war art and design from the 1948 ‘austerity’ Games to the summer of 2012. The exhibition will highlight significant moments in the history of British design and how the country continues to nurture artistic talent and be a world leader in creativity and design.
Drawing on the V&A’s unrivalled collections and complemented by works drawn from across Britain, the exhibition will bring together over 300 objects including product design, fashion and textiles, furniture, ceramics and glass, graphics, photography, architecture, fine art and sculpture. It will tell the story of British design in all its forms featuring much-loved objects such as Robin Day’s Polyprop Chair, a mural by John Piper from The Festival of Britain, fine art by David Hockney and Henry Moore, fashion including an Alexander McQueen evening gown, plus the first E-type Jaguar car ever put on public display. Contemporary works including a model of Zaha Hadid’s London Aquatics Centre will also be shown, alongside designs rediscovered for the exhibition.
The first section of the exhibition explores how the drive for modernity in the reconstruction of Britain after World War II was often mediated by a preoccupation with the past and with British traditions. Whilst sometimes these two strands within British culture were mutually exclusive, often they came together to create an idiosyncratic and tempered modernity. A focus on three spaces will explore how different aspects of British life reflected this tension between tradition and modernity: the City, the Land and the Home.
The second section of the exhibition takes up the theme of Subversion as a determining characteristic of much British design from the 1960s to the 90s. Challenging the traditional hierarchies and tastes favoured by the generation who had fought in the War, it charts the explosion of counter cultural forms of creativity from the late 1950s onwards – from the advent of Pop, through swinging 60s London, to 70s punk and the creation of ‘Cool Britannia’ in the 1990s, which saw a new generation of artists and designers gain international acclaim. This section will set these themes within the contexts of the Studio and the Street.
British design has always been associated with great originality and innovation and the last section of the exhibition explores British creativity in relation to industry, new technologies and architecture. It will demonstrate how British companies have created some of the most iconic objects, technologies and buildings of the last 50 years. With the election of a Conservative government in 1979 and the development of Thatcherite ideas around enterprise, this section charts the decline of Britain as a manufacturing nation. It explores how new attitudes towards commodity culture and global connections developed during the 1980s and fundamentally shifted the ways in which design was produced and consumed. The last three sections of the exhibition will suggest the spaces of the Factory, the Laboratory and the Architect’s practice.
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