Telling Tales at the V&A

| 14 comments

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An exhibition of limited-edition design including work by Atelier Van Lieshout, Boym Partners and Studio Makkink & Bey opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London yesterday.

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The work on show is divided into three sections; the Forest Glade presents work inspired by fairytales, myths and nature, the Enchanted Castle displays objects usually associated with wealth and status that have been subverted, while Heaven and Hell explores themes of mortality.

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Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design is curated by Gareth Williams and runs until 18 October.

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Photos: V&A Images unless stated otherwise.

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Here's some more information from the V&A:

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Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design
14 July 2008 – 18 October 2009

This exhibition explores the recent trend among European designers for unique or limited edition pieces that push the boundaries between art and design.

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It showcases furniture, lighting and ceramics, designed by a new generation of international designers, including Tord Boontje, Maarten Baas, Jurgen Bey and Studio Job, who are all inspired by the spirit of story-telling.

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Each tells a tale through their use of decorative devices, historical allusions or choice of materials, sharing common themes such as fantasy, parody and a concern with mortality.

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Above: The Fig Leaf wardrobe, 2008. Designed by Tord Boontje. © Meta

The exhibition is in three sections: The Forest Glade is inspired by fantasy and nature evoking the spirit of fairytales. The Enchanted Castle exaggerates and parodies historical design styles often associated with displays of status. Heaven and Hell is concerned with themes of mortality and the afterlife.

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Above: Garden House by Jurgen Bey for magazine “Eigen Huis” assisted by Christiaan Oppewal & Silvijn v/d Velden / 2002. Photographer: Studio Makkink & Bey

The Forest Glade

Against all the evidence of an industrialised, globalised, high-tech world (or perhaps because of it) some contemporary designers are retreating to the pastoral setting of fairy tales, myths and nature. In so doing they return us to our most primitive state. No doubt their designs are escapist, even naïve, and can be quite deliberately childlike.

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Above: Flower Pyramid, 2008, Studio Job, © the artists. Courtesy of Royal Tichelaar Makkum Photo: Studio Marten Aukes. More info

Their faux-rustic objects look as though they belong in a forest glade straight from classical mythology or northern European fairy tales, or perhaps even the biblical Garden of Eden. But these designers are deadly serious about wanting to disengage us from ordinary life and reconnect us to a state of innocence and wonder.

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Above: Robber Baron table, 2006, Studio Job. © Studio Job Photo: R. Kot, Brussels. More info

The Enchanted Castle

We now enter an Enchanted Castle furnished with marvellous and fantastical objects. Many recall designs from the 18th century, a period that was frequently evoked by later writers and illustrators of fairytales. The 18th century was also the age of the rise of the novel, a new way to tell tales. Early novels, such as Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), were descriptions of the material world of Georgian life, as were William Hogarth's print series, such as Marriage à la Mode (1745).

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Above: Pixelated Chair, 2007 by Studio Makkink & Bey. Photo: Alain Speltdoorn, courtesy of Studio Makkink & Bey. More info

In both, style and design were a visual language that indicated social and worldly status. Here we see conventional displays of high status parodied and subverted, through awkward changes of scale or seemingly inappropriate uses of materials.

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Above: Robber Baron cabinet, 2006 by Studio Job © Studio Job. Photo: R. Kot, Brussels. More info

Heaven and Hell

At the end of the 19th century, the advent of psychoanalysis opened up the sub-conscious and offered new interpretations of dreams and the imagination. With this came a renewed awareness of mortality and a sense of anxiety about the mutability of life, which Freud described as the 'death drive'. Inspired by this, we here present works that evoke the universal conflict of life and death, heaven and hell, judgement and salvation.

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Above: Ultimate Art Furniture chair, 2006 by Boym Partners. © Boym Partners. More info

Some of these designers refer to the forms of Baroque art, others conjure up memento mori - reminders of our mortality. Still others create agitated designs that explore our anxious state in troubled times.

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Above: Napoléon à Trotinette chair, 2005 by Vincent Dubourg. © Vincent Dubourg. Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery. More info

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Above: Lathe chairs VIII, 2008 by Sebastian Brajkovic. © Sebastian Brajkovic. Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery. More info

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Above: Sensory Deprivation Skull, 2007 by Atelier Van Lieshout. Reinforced fibreglass. More info

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Above: Perished Bench, 2006 by Studio Job. © Studio Job. More info

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Above: White Carrara Marble Cinderella Table, 2008 by Demakersvan/Jeroen Verhoeven. © Demakersvan/Jeroen Verhoeven. Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

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Above: The Clone Chair, 2005 by Julian Mayor. © the artist

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Above: The Fall of the Damned Chandelier by Luc Merx. model: Damned.MGX. © the artist, courtesy .MGX by Materialise. More info

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Above: Flower Pyramid, 2008 by Studio Makkink & Bey for Pyramids of Makkum. Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, 2008. © Courtesy of Royal Tichelaar Makkum. Photo: Studio Marten Aukes. More info

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Above: Sculpt wardrobe, 2007 by Maarten Baas. © Maarten Baas. Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Photograph Maarten van Houten. More info

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Above: Smoke mirror, 2008 by Maarten Baas. © The Artist. More info

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Above: Flower Pyramid, 2008 by Hella Jongerius for Pyramids of Makkum. Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, 2008 © Courtesy of Royal Tichelaar Makkum. Photo: Studio Marten Aukes. More info

| 14 comments

Posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at 12:01 am by Brad Turner. See our copyright policy. Before commenting, please read our comments policy.

  • B

    ok, so now that we have completed that chapter in trendy design ( lot of dutch work in there btw) it was nice, it was good (for the most of it) but ehm..lets move on and make other stuff again. yes..we got the hint, a chair can be more than a chair and can have some poetry….but I think the people are getting a bit tired of being red to all the time..makes you sleepy..at a certain age you want to be able to explore for yourself and all this stuff will look like childrens stories…

  • Dan

    so, maybe we should have a look back to the beginning of the 90′s with its minimalism /purism / functionalism, but moving on with a different attitude…

  • http://- Olivier

    Tales? Poetry?

    These are just cartoons. Plain, vulgar and predictable. Like Tom & Jerry.

  • subvertlab

    “en attendant les barbares”, “a rebours”…

  • http://www.brunnojahara.com bojanic&jahara

    I hope we move into some wild tropicalism ~ eco, fresh, green, blue, new.

  • http://www.gilesmiller.com giles miller

    A stunning selection of work… well done Gareth!

  • mikaël

    I agree with B; this is great work, very inspiring, now lets move on

  • B.S.

    That’s the end of that trend then…

  • Bob

    Wonderful work. And I hope we have not now arrived at an “end”, but are rather experiencing a chance to play with, modulate, and even drastically tone down some recent excesses. Let’s only hope the coming new austerity is not a pendulum swing toward the mean-spirited, tight, and rigid — but is as playful, celebratory, and dream-inspired as this work is.

  • lana

    nothing is invented, everything is re-invented.
    this exhibition shows an amazing amalgam of styles, trends, influences and materials. is it the same to say design art?
    Gareth Williams did an amazing curatorial job. i’ve seen some of these pieces maybe two years ago at the design art fair and indeed, v&a did a much better job.
    this exhibition questions me really loud what is it design art, where’s the real boundary between design and art and above all does design art exists or is it different words to say the same? (food for thought: baroque and renaissance)

    i’m sure we are living a huge style transformation in design and architecture, but haven’t name it. i believe we’re still under experimentation, metamorphosis…

  • designgurunyc

    I have been lucky enough to be in town for this new exhibition, and as usual, the team at the V&A have hit this retrospective and the end of a trend at exactly the right time (congratulations again Gareth…).
    This really has been an excessive time where design has been allowed to romp to new boundaries under the argument that everything can be reinvented and reinterpreted. Limited editions have abounded and received accolade and 6 figure sums. Students have been acting like stars. If ever we needed a sign that the eighties had returned this was it, a symbol that furniture that may never be used or sat upon or under, could be veiled as art, or worse still as poetry and collected! Please wake up, post recession world, most of this is not art. It certainly isnt poetry (though occasionally poetic), and worst of all it often isnt really furniture!
    The pretentiousness of it all was and is quite disgusting, and though I have enjoyed much of the process of this trend, it is now officially over. We live in a different world that no longer likes to be seen to be frivolous, and I await with this retrospective the next stage of true design to surface.
    I think that it was no coincidence that Li (Edelkoort) left her post at Eindhoven. She is a master of visualising the next big thing and left what was becoming repetitive (the dutch need to find a new way), and that the wave of design was about to change.
    I however salute this show, it is almost a ‘greatest hits’ of Dutch wave design, in the way that all the big players that have made it into design books are featured, and as a long departing wave to what has been a fun if pointless decade of design.

  • zerocharisma

    designgurunyc said;

    ‘The pretentiousness of it all was and is quite disgusting, and ‘though I have enjoyed much of the process of this trend, it is now officially over. We live in a different world that no longer likes to be seen to be frivolous, and I await with this retrospective the next stage of true design to surface.
    I think that it was no coincidence that Li (Edelkoort) left her post at Eindhoven. She is a master of visualising the next big thing and left what was becoming repetitive (the dutch need to find a new way), and that the wave of design was about to change.’

    very well put.
    instead of defending this work against negativity of the now, lets say farwell and thankyou. Dutch design was at some point important. now it is over.
    lets look forward. get smart and be realistic about the world and the way we live in it.

  • tiffany

    This show definitely shows the spirit of the first decade of this century. A nice show but to much decoration, too little meaning. Droog design ruled in the nineties, and the Dutch still rule this decade. Which country want’s to take over?

  • tweetertweet

    Wow that looks very cluttered. What a mess…