The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comments from the Curator!

Some of our more observant readers will remember our first (and last, if I can't get the editing software to work!) Podcast, last November, which comprised a (v noisy) discussion of the V&A's Cold War Modern exhibition. Well, the Curator of that exhibition, Jane Pavitt, heard the podcast and got in touch to respond to some of the questions we had raised. And she has very kindly agreed for me to post those comments here. Thanks Jane!

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Dear all,

I am the curator of the Cold War Modern exhibition at the V&A - I was very pleased to come across the podcast of your discussion of our exhibition. It's very interesting for us to see the kinds of discussion that happens around and about the show, especially as Cold War Modern was quite an unusual project for the V&A.

I just thought I'd add some comments on some of your questions about the show (what we could hear amongst the cafe noise!)

You discuss the status of the exhibition (V&A generated, touring etc) - it was the result of a four year research project by myself and consultant curator David Crowley, and was part of a series of largescale 20th century design shows which the V&A has staged over the last ten years. As these are major undertakings for the V&A, they do provide the opportunity to borrow from a wide range of international collections (public and also private lenders) - as you saw, less than 20% was from the V&A's own collections, although we did acquire for the permanent collections where we could. The rest was from a collection of nearly 50 lenders (some of whom - especially the national museums - we work with on many projects). The exhibition was created solely by the V&A, and will tour to 2 further major museums this year (in Italy and Lithuania) - this goes some way to recouping the costs of such an undertaking.

Major lenders included the Pompidou, MOMA in New York, various German state museums, and museums in Italy, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic, Holland, Russia, and elsewhere in the States.

The period scope of the show - 1945-70 - was determined by us as the key dates within which to locate post-war modernism (i.e.. as one of you rightly said, this didn't set out to be a history of the Cold War... but an exhibition of modern art and design). The ideas of the modern movement (ideas of utopia, progress, futurism and universalism) undergo a major crisis in the late 1960s, as we explore in the last gallery, and then implode in the early 1970s (marked by and perhaps precipitated by such diverse events as the Oil Crisis, and a host of post-1968 intellectual questions). This is why we rather provocatively titled the last section the 'last' utopians - suggesting that the very idea of utopia itself was perhaps inconceivable in the wake of this.

I was particularly interested to hear your comments on design as vision/ideal - and as lived reality. You are right that the show deals primarily with the former (but many things we show did enter the market...) We made the distinction in our thinking between a show on the material culture of the Cold War (another exhibition) and this - the idea of cold war modernity as a series of projections about future possible societies. Given the context of the V&A, we were not going to do a social history/material culture show (there is, however, a vast and rapidly expanding scholarship of Cold War material culture - you might want to look at the various publications by David Crowley on such themes as 'socialist luxury' and 'socialist space').

You're right too that Germany was a major feature for us - there weren't necessary more objects from Germany than elsewhere, but it has a consistent presence throughout the show, so perhaps was most visible. In museological terms, it is also the case that there are a large number of collections/archives/research centres investigating this subject.

And finally - another reason for our periodisation is that we are preparing another exhibition on the 1970s-1990s to follow (in 2011) on Postmodernism. Whilst every show tends to have a different set of objectives, we will return to some of the issues raised in this forthcoming show.....


Kind regards,
Jane Pavitt

Curator Cold War Modern/Postmodernism

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Well, I for one, am really looking forward to the forthcoming Postmodernism exhibition.  Roll on 2011!

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