Sunday, 2 November 2008

Cold War Modern

The Victoria & Albert Museum continues with the next installment in its series of thematic design exhibitions. Previous shows were devoted to Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism. The new exhibition, moving in chronological order, is Cold War Modern 1945-1970.

The show weaves together the history of the period with art, architecture, interior design, film, fashion and technology.

It begins with the rebuilding of Europe after World War II and the hopes and anxieties for the continent as the battlelines between east and west were already being drawn. There's a particularly fine architect's rendering of an (unbuilt) Stalinist gothic skyscraper, seven of which were actually built around Moscow.

The exhibition them covers the thaw after the death of Stalin. This period saw improvements in living standards in the Soviet bloc and an artistic reawakening. The US and Soviet governments held major exhibitions in 1959. The Russians staged an exhibition in New York showing off their high artistic and technological achievements, while the US put on the Trade and Cultural Fair in Moscow with displays of automobiles, kitchen appliances and clothing to demonstrate the benefits of the market economy to ordinary men and women.

The 1960s saw the peak of Cold War tensions, with the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The exhibition highlights from this period are a series of the original set design drawings by Ken Adam for Doctor Strangelove and the early Bond movies.

The exhibition covers the space race particularly well, from a model of Sputnik to film clips from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There's also a cleverly-done section on communications towers (like the one in Berlin shown below).

The exhibition loses its way a bit towards the end as it moves into late 1960s utopianism. The presentation, and I think also the subject matter, is less compelling than the earlier subjects.

Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 is at the V&A until January 11, 2009.
Exhibition website


Easy and Elegant Life said...

I had the (in retrospect) surreal experience of visiting Berlin with my parents in the 1970's. Because of my father's position as an Army officer, we were only allowed within a certain distance of the Wall. It was straight out of "Holidays in the Sun": "I'm looking over the wall and they're looking at me...."

António Erre said...

Nice posts. I loved the country side.

Sir Fopling Flutter said...

Easy and Elegant - It must have been a strange experience. There are some clips on YouTube taken from old home movies with people wandering around West Berlin or taking a train through no-man's land. Hard to imagine today.

Similar to your story, I recently met a Russian woman who lived in Washington DC in the early 80s as the wife of a Russian diplomat. She was VERY limited as to what she could do outside the embassy compound.

Pigtown-Design said...

I was at the V&A, but needed timed tickets and just didn't have the chance... too much else to look at, too!