Postmodernism at MART, Rovereto, Italy (2012)

Postmodernism. Style and subversion 1970–1990

Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (MART), Rovereto, Italy
25 February - 3 June 2012

Press release text by MART

From 25 February to 3 June 2012, the exhibition curated by Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt and organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, will be hosted in the spaces of the Mart at Rovereto. This marks a further major collaboration between the Mart and the prestigious British museum in the wake of the "Cold War 1945-1970" exhibition of 2009.

"Postmodernism. Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990" is the first complete overview of art, architecture and design of the 1970s and 1980s, a period marked by controversial attempts to define the new cultural scenarios in the wake of the major modern avant-garde movements.


The thematic heart of this latest exhibition is the concept of Postmodernism, which emerged in the early 1970s in European architecture and went on to influence every sector of culture, and the visual arts in particular, together with the music and film industries, graphic design and fashion. It marks a crucial point in the cultural development of Italy too, which Mart explores and presents in the Italian edition of the catalogue, with a text by architect Paolo Portoghesi.

The exhibition takes as its starting point the analysis of a series of radical ideas developed in strong opposition to the orthodox ideas of Modernism: an overturning of the concepts of purity and simplicity, to be replaced by new forms and colours, historic quotations, parodies and, above all, by a new sense of freedom associated with architecture and design. Among the modernists, it is not rare for personal style to be considered a secondary aspect with respect to the effort of realising a utopian programme. For the Postmodernists, on the other hand, style is everything.

"Postmodernism. Style and Subversion 1970 - 1990" brings together over 200 objects across all genres of art, architecture and design. First of all is the “subversive design” of Ettore Sottsass for the Studio Memphis followed by the graphic design of Peter Saville and Neville Brody; architectural models and rendering, together with preparatory drawings by Philip Johnson for the AT&T skyscraper (1978); works by Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman and Ai Weiwei; the 1986 stainless steel bust of Louis XIV by Jeff Koons; the reconstruction of the monumental work by Jenny Holzer “Protect Me From What I Want” (1983-85); performances and costumes, including the “Big Suit” worn by David Byrne for the documentary “Stop Making Sense” of 1984; extracts from films such as ”The Last of England” by Derek Jarman (1987); music videos of Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones and New Order; and also surprising objects such as the dinner services designed by architects like Zaha Hadid, Frank O. Gehry and Arata Isozaki.

The exhibition is divided into three chronological areas, for each of the three key aspects of Postmodernism. The first part will focus on architecture, and will show how ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural references were blended into a new critical language, which was aimed at the inadequacies of Modernism. These were the years in which Paolo Portoghesi implemented a highly controversial revolution with his “Via Novissima” presented at the Venice Biennale of 1980, proposing the ephemeral construction of architectural facaded with which to overshadow the Modernist axiom of the relationship between form and function. Thus, 20 international architects designed an imaginary city street in the large corridor of the Corderie dell’Arsenale in Venice: the “Via Novissima”, which attracted as much criticism as it did acclaim. The language of the Postmodern architects also expressed a refusal of the alienating conditions of late capitalism. Thus architects and designers like Aldo Rossi, James Stirling, Ron Arad, Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo shared a tendency to assemble fragments of contents originating largely from their own autobiographical memories.

The second part of the exhibition documents the proliferation of Postmodernism through design, art, music and fashion during the 1980s. Performers such as Grace Jones, Leigh Bowery and Klaus Nomi played with genre and gender, creating hybrid, subversive stage personas. This section of the exhibition will be saturated with audio-visual installations and fashion photographs by Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. Also on display will be stage ensembles worn by Annie Lennox and Devo, turntables used by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, the album cover of Kraftwerk’s “Die Mensch Machine” and dance costumes related to the choreography of Karole Armitage and Michael Clark.

The final section will examine the explosion of the hyper-inflated commodity culture of the 1980s. This boom decade saw money become a source of endless fascination for artists and designers, as revealed in the exhibition by Karl Lagerfeld’s design for Chanel, and by the jewels designed for Cleto Munari by Ettore Sottsass, Michele De Lucchi and Marco Zanini. Excess was the distinctive mark of Postmodernism. Brands including Swatch, MTV and Disney were keen to employ leading designers to apply postmodern style to their products.