• Lead
Opinion

The V&A have started a collection of key pop culture items, but is this a good idea?

Posted by James Cartwright,

This week James Cartwright wonders what the V&A is up to with its policy of “Rapid Response Collecting” and whether it really marks a shift in their curation policy. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below.

Wedding dresses, Ziggy’s glam garments, the design of the Cold War; these are the items and subjects with which I associate London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Stood in its palatial hallways and atria it’s impossible not to feel intoxicated by the wealth of luxurious art and design objects the museum has accumulated over the years, and to revere their creators, both alive and (mostly) dead.

Both the grandiose surroundings and antiquated objects create an atmosphere within the galleries that is wholly transportive, allowing visitors to travel from era to era and through foreign lands as they pass through each room, soaking up the creations of the world’s elite designers. And elite is definitely the word to describe them; very little of the museum’s permanent collection could be classed as utilitarian, purely functional, or even cheap. They deal in the decorative, the elaborate and the expensive.

And yet this is starting to change. Since Kieran Long has been senior curator of contemporary architecture at the museum he’s been dabbling in what’s known as “rapid response collecting,” buying up cheap, everyday objects that he believes reflect the current design climate, reflect political concerns and, more importantly, demonstrate the ethical issues in modern manufacturing.

This new collection went on display on 4 July and includes the first 3D-printed gun, a pair of Primark jeans potentially made in the Bangladesh factory that collapsed in April 2013, an Ikea-made toy wolf that became an object of political dissent in Hong Kong and a pair of false eyelashes endorsed by Katy Perry. None of these count as design objects in the traditional sense; they aren’t beautiful or well-made and some have very limited function, but they serve as markers in our wider cultural history and reflect the status quo in a world which has spread its supply-chain globally.

But isn’t this radical shift in acquisitions simply an encroachment on the Design Museum’s bread and butter? They’ve been collecting and displaying these kinds of objects for years; choosing products for their cultural significance as much as their aesthetic value and exhibiting them alongside works by high-flying celebrity designers.

Of course it’s great that the V&A has decided to raise awareness of the way we make products in the modern world; the knock-on effect of buying a pair of jeans for £5 and the implications of bringing cheap manufacture into people’s homes – there’s no doubt that as a society we’re living unsustainably. But a tiny room in a labyrinthine space doesn’t suggest a call to arms and a wholesale reevaluation of the way we manufacture. Rather it seems like a cabinet of curiosities to offer respite from all the vibrant silks and giant plaster casts that occupy the other spaces, or just a fairly weak nod to a much larger debate that the museum isn’t ready to wade into just yet. Let’s hope they’re preparing a larger showcase further down the line.

comments powered by Disqus
Jc

Posted by James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and came back in summer of 2012 to work online and latterly as Print Editor, before leaving in May 2015.

Most Recent: Opinion View Archive

  1. Marcel-ingloriousfruits-itsnicethat-list

    After the Design Museum names its six category winners for the 2015 Designs of the Year, Rob Alderson argues that the victor in the graphics section is a very worthy winner. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below.

  2. List

    Ben Tallon’s new book explores the difficult transition to going freelance which many in the creative world make, and by which many more are tempted. To mark the publication of Champagne and Wax Crayons Ben has written a piece about how he found taking that giant leap. You can add your thoughts below…

  3. Grayson-perrys-dream-hous-007-list

    A few years ago, you wouldn’t have expected Channel Four to show a documentary about a cross-dressing artist making a house in Essex on a Sunday evening. But that’s the magic of Grayson Perry: there’s no such thing as low and high culture, no such thing as people not being “into” art, no such thing as stereotypes.

  4. List_sarah_lucas_i_scream_daddio_its_nice_that_

    One of my favourite exhibitions of the last few years was Sarah Lucas’ Whitechapel show, described by The Guardian as “Breasts, bums, blokes and their bits.” Naturally, I was thrilled when Sarah was announced as the artist creating the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Like the work of Jeremy Deller, the artist chosen in 2013, Sarah’s art can be messy and funny and fearless. It’s hard to make sense of, and big issues are frequently masked with a wry humour. Britain could be said to be the same; for all our perceived stuffiness, as a nation there’s a gloriously dishevelled side – a bold sense of “why the fuck not,” experimentation and our famed eccentricity which has made such a small place such a big deal when it comes to creativity.

  5. Oliviacharlesworth-itsnicethat-1

    At a time when debates surrounding art and design education and the way they prepare students for the creative industries are intensifying, Kingston University tutor Zelda Malan explains why it’s still so important that creative courses continue to teach ideas. You can add your thoughts using the comments thread below…

  6. Marianbantjes-designawards-itsnicethat-list

    It’s design award season (like the film world equivalent but fewer red carpets and more pictures of people staring at posters) and as ever the winners will be much discussed across the creative industries. But genuinely useful advice for those who enter has been thin on the ground, until now. Having relaunched her website, the brilliant Marian Bantjes has also started a new blog (huzzah!) and recently wrote a series of tips for those designers putting their work up for awards, based on her extensive experience as a judge. You can add comments below, or just soak up the wisdom…

  7. Newswall-itsnicethat-list

    Yesterday saw the launch of a brand new form of news presentation by Channel 4 in 4NewsWall – a Tumblr-hosted website dedicated to the day’s top news stories, listed chronologically, with each presented by a GIF. Thought up by 4Creative’s Jack Croft and Stacey Bird and developed by the creative team, it’s flashy, image-led and uncluttered – with each GIF offering a click-through button to a more detailed report – and looks set to be an interesting and exciting progression for news journalism.

  8. Graphicdesign_-opinion-itsnicethat-list

    A couple of months ago there was a lot of interest in this survey in which clients described the four worst types of creative agencies as they saw it. Now we have a chance to hear from the practitioners themselves, by way of Graphicdesign&’s in-depth industry study. Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright have partnered with social scientist Nikandre Kopcke to create a questionnaire which explores “practice, perceptions and prejudices alongside the usual questions about age, education, work and pay.”

  9. List

    It’s fast approaching the time of all-nighters (not the fun ones), tears, last-minute panics and all the other things that come with the end of learning and the impending beginning of the terrifying thing they call real life. But like the mum that tells you you’re always the best and most talented and most beautiful, or the best friend that bursts into your house and pops the kettle on/pours the gin, we’re here to remind you of some of the advice that might be able to help you.

  10. Stevedaniels-hero-list

    There is an awful lot of discussion around starting a new magazine and for many creatively inclined people it remains one of their foremost ambitions. Last week Makeshift founder Steve Daniels wrote an excellent blog about the things to consider when planning a new publication, and in doing so summed up many things we too feel are important. Steve’s now become an advisor to the title he founded, a move which maybe gives him a little extra distance to write “not a guide to the nuts and bolts of finding a printer and selling subscriptions but a contemplation of the major elements that will set you up for success.”

  11. Kingadz-autenticity-list

    In the branding and advertising world, authenticity seems to have become the Holy Grail. Seemingly melded to whatever people need it to convey, it’s become a buzzword whose significance has mushroomed while its meaning has all but vanished. With this in mind King Adz, aka Adam N. Stone – whose new book Unbrandable is out this summer – considers what authenticity really means in a contemporary creative context. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…

  12. Kinfolk_14.cover

    The latest issue of Gym Class magazine has an eye-catching cover; with bold block capitals on a black background spelling out: “Nobody cares about your oh-so-cool, Kickstarted, tactile, minimalist unoriginal magazine.” It’s intended as a “call to action,” Gym Class editor Steven Gregor told MagCulture, “make magazines, and make them exceptional.”

  13. Applewtach-list-int

    The Apple Watch was officially unveiled yesterday (as was a super-thin 13.1mm new MacBook) and as ever the internet is awash with run-downs and reactions slobbering over the new products. For Wolff Olins design director Jan Eumann though, the imminent arrival of the new timepiece got him thinking about logo design, and in particular how app buttons have rehabilitated the logo. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…