ron arad, concrete sound, 1985, Londra, Victoria and Albert Museum

Postmodernism: the freestyling that marked an era

Last October, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I finally understood the meaning of postmodernism, thanks to a highly entertaining show that analyzed it in all its aspects, from architecture, to design, fashion, music production and that is now exhibited at the Mart in Rovereto (until June 3). The advantage was that it really cleared up, in an exhaustive way, a period of twenty years. Before going in, the concept of postmodernism coincided with a jumble of notions and forms without beginning and end. After the show, I realized that I also inherited my good deal of post-modernity, and perhaps now I better know myself, because I have understood where I come from.

 What we now call postmodernism has had his moment of glory since the Seventies, but especially in the early Eighties, and it came right from the colapse of modernism, with its functionalism and its purity of form. Unlike modernism that had its manifesto as a movement and its authority and universality, postmodernism is the antithesis of univocity and dogmatism that from the Parthenon led to Villa Savoye (emblem of Le Corbusier’s rationalist modernism, www.greatbuildings.com). Postmodernism began as a desire to regain the freedom to mix far-off, high and low elements together, to introduce the quotation, the parody, up to a real praise of the hybrid, of the composite and of the pastiche. A movement, therefore, mainly coinciding with the style of an era (from haircuts to video clips) in which everything becomes licit again, provided that you dare to break the pattern of pure and strict forms. Postmodernism, from which all of us have derived (or rather those who, like me, were young in the Eighties), despite being a closed chapter, will never thoroughly leave us because it has been introjected; today is the future in progress of postmodernism, but it certainly  exploded or imploded with mass consumerism, and then further it died with globalization in the late Nineties.

What fun the dark room with music videos and strictly post-human looks by Boy George, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and the images of Blade Runner on the big screen. After seeing the bold design pieces of the Memphis group and Gaetano Pesce’s resin chairs, I loved Ron Arad’s cement stereo. I would have liked to be in the store that Arad opened in 1983 in an old warehouse near Covent Garden, the legendary “One Off”, where he exposed the furniture made of scaffoldings and the seats of old cars. I would have liked even more to be in Time Square in 1983, when Jenny Holzer made the giant neon writing “ Protect me from what I want” appear, whose image comes into sight at the end of the exhibition to mark the end of Posmodernism, engulfed by unbridled consumerism.

But we must always remember, in my opinion, this enthusiastic attempt to match the idea of modern with the proposal of a style, of a specific look (so Eighties!), (while modernism was the antistyle, the absence of style, the formal rigour that is above all styles). Now Postmodernism is history and I do not know exactly how to call the era we are living in; Nicolas Bourriaud since 2008 has spoken of Altermodern as of an era that the whole planet is living (www.tate.org.uk), not a Western phenomenon as modernism and largely postmodernism were. With a bit of nostalgia, I think it will be difficult to find a style as clear as the postmodern one in the early Eighties. With globalization, from the Nineties onwards, we are living so many styles that we do not even notice them.

Irina Zucca Alessandrelli

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