Tag Archives: V&A

Art and protest at the V&A

I’d been looking forward to the Disobedient Objects exhibition at the V&A for quite some time, so perhaps it was inevitable that I’d end up being disappointed. The exhibition looks at the art and design of protest, the way campaigners create new objects to enhance their ability to protest. Most obviously, this involves items like banners or posters, but protesters can be incredibly creative, and the boundaries for this are almost limitless.

The V&A exhibition, though, all felt a little safe. There was very little here that could upset anybody. The protests could all have come from a Guardian-approved list of righteous causes, while the objects were either strung up high out of reach – inflatable cobblestones, old banners – or dwarfed by the surrounding cabinets made of cheap plywood. Not that that there were that many objects: some posters and banners, a decorated car, some bicycle contraption, a phone with a subversive game and a limited selection of T-shirts and button badges. I was particularly disappointed that the Barbie Liberation Organization, a group that placed subversive voiceboxes inside old Barbies, were represented only by a film much like one you can watch on You Tube.

It wasn’t terrible. I liked the shields made to resemble book covers, for instance, and the Suffragette china has historic importance, while the Fuck The Law pendants made by a Black Panther who has spent 35 years in solitary had a rare power. Certainly more so than the rather trite banner, below, that the V&A clearly love so much they’re selling as postcards. I liked the free sheets they were giving away, though, telling people how to make their own disobedient devices.

Bone china with transfers printed in green, bearing the emblem of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU)Coral Stoakes, I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies

Best of everything, though – and the only stuff that really felt at all dangerous even now – were the mock newspapers created by Reclaim The Streets and Class War. These supported a variety of causes, but were generally just designed to piss off the power of the establishment.

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This had a lot in common with the excellent exhibition upstairs in Room 88 called A World To Win: Posters Of Protest And Revolution, where Class War were also represented. This display takes place across two rooms which collectively contained dozens of dramatic posters from more than 100 years of graphic protest across the globe. There are items here from the Weimer Republic, Vietnam, Soviet Russia, Oman, Northern Ireland, Paris 68 and the Iranian Revolution.A lot are designed to shock – dead bodies at My Lai, Fuck The Draft, the incongruity of a poster celebrated the Ayatollah Khomeini placed just across the room from one lauding Angela Davis. The mix worked, and the images were superb.

A few of my favourites are below. but I recommend you check the collection out yourselves. Both this and Disobedient Objects are free.


Poster - So Long as Women are not Free the People are not FreePoster - Never Again! Stop the Nazi NF!

Against Apartheid. Boycott South African Goods (Poster)

Les Beaux-Arts Sont Fermés, Mais L'Art Revolutionaire Est Ne (Poster)

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Diaghilev at the V&A

Two months ago I knew diddly about Diaghilev. Since then I’ve written two features about him – including this in the Independent On Sunday – and can confidently assert that this Russian-born impressario changed the face of ballet in the early twentieth century when his company, the Ballets Russes, enlisted artists and composers like Picasso, Matisse and Stravinsky to showcase the work of groundbreaking dancers and choreographers like Nijinsky and Massine. Such is the magic of journalism.

The occasion is the V&A’s big autumn exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russe, which opens on September 25. It’s an incredibly rich exhibition, crammed with memorabilia and costumes and images and music. Highlights include the astonishing, undanceable costumes from Parade, Picasso and Cocteau’s ‘Cubist ballet’, the monumental back cloth from ‘The Firebird’, and a wonderful bust of Nijinsky that captures his odd features.

I’m not a great fan of the ‘blockbuster’ exhibition as they are rarely as satisfying and intelligent as intimate displays at the more thoughtful museums, but this one is a real cracker, demonstrating decades of learning and showcasing a marvellous collection of costumes bought in auction and secured in the V&A’s vaults for just such an occasion.

(There’s a nice piece here from Diaghilev’s biographer about the Russian’s relationship with London.)