We took a tour of the V&A's current exhibition on postmodernism, which features graphics and signage by design studio APFEL...
If you're London-based or London-bound this week, we recommend you catch Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 to 1990, which is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum until Sunday 15 January. It makes for an inspiring couple of hours as you take a tour through some great examples of art, architecture, fashion and graphics that have had a huge influence on design thinking over the last couple of decades.
The work of several design favourites appears including Peter Saville, Vaughan Oliver and Neville Brody, along with examples of type by Emigre. The graphic design elements of the exhibition tend to focus on the 80s and 90s, but the show's narrative starts off with the artwork and architecture that first defined postmodernism, in response to the order and purity of utopian modernism, during the 1960s and 70s. There are some fantastic scale recreations of outdoor pieces such as the Facade Strada Novissima, a structure composed of several Greek columns taken over by postmodern art, created in 1980 by Hans Hollein. You'll also see a range of (pre-Alessi) product design with the creations of the Memphis group.
The V&A worked with the architects Carmody Groarke and design studio APFEL (A Practice for Everyday Life). The former designed and constructed the gallery areas, while the latter designed the typography, signage, graphics, sxhibition book and the cover for the double vinyl LP that has been released in conjunction with the show. It contains tracks by a range of new wave performers - from David Bowie to Devo - who were associated with postmodernism thanks to their visual styles as much as their music.
APFEL took plenty of inspiration from certain elements of the show's content, including the ad hoc forests of neon signage found in Las Vegas, which feature in one part of the event, and clips and costumes from Blade Runner which appear in the entertainment section. The area focusing on postmodernism in film, music and fashion is sectioned off with scaffolding, chainlink fences and neon signage - inspired by the nightclub scene in The Terminator. You can watch Kraftwerk videos, size up onstage outfits worn by Annie Lennox and David Byrne, and then check out some iconic 80s magazines.
"We wanted to reflect postmodernism's extensive variety without directly pastiching previous works," says APFEL cofounder Kirsty Carter. "We utilised super-graphic reproductions as towering billboards on the walls, neon lighting evocative of the reoccurring vision architects held for future city landscapes, and a labelling system held in place with patterned elastic bands of Memphis reproductions placed on top of bright coloured perspex."
Watch out for our Studio Life visit to APFEL included on the DVD with issue 198 of Computer Arts, along with a profile of the studio inside the magazine on sale 9 February.