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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Half-formed thoughts. Retro, in all its forms, appears to be the most propogated artistic styles on the internet. So why should a style that had effectively vanished by the time the internet was created suddenly become a pre-eminent fixture in the digital realm? Perhaps it's because the internet provided the tools to sell what was formerly an extremely niche product - retro modern furniture and accessories - vastly broadening the potential audience (part of this is no doubt down to eBay).

Retro design has very little sense of the antagonistic 'us versus them' mentality that characterises 'hard-edge' modernism. Instead, Retro is warm and friendly, playful rather than dogmatic. In short, it's the anti-thesis of the popular view of Modernism as a forbidding, over-powering orthodoxy. Right now, the V&A's new show, Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939 is one of the most popular art exhibitions in London. Has our affection for the warm, fuzzy edges of Retro encouraged us to take a hit of the hard stuff? Is Retro a gateway drug?

The Guardian Group papers have devoted several long articles to the V&A's show (links collated here), starting with a multi-page special that saw J.G.Ballard describe Modernism as a death cult, Robert Hughes rather grumpily repeat the old tropes about the 'luckless ones' who lived with the 'great grimy beast' that is Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation, and Fiona MacCarthy rattle off a rather unsurprising top ten of must-see Modernist-era buildings.

Then came the reviews. In the Observer, Deyan Sudjic makes the point about Britain being 'culturally irrelevant' in the period covered by the show, 'meagre soil for the astonishing outpouring of creative energy that transformed Vienna, Berlin, Paris and Moscow.' For the Guardian's Adrian Searle, the show reflected the movement's 'mess of contradictions.' However, the movement's apologists had very little time to rest. Modernism's enemies soon came out of the woodwork, spearheaded by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, claiming that 'It is the most terrifying exhibition I have seen, because it is politics disguised as art.' Sudjic countered, dismissing Jenkins's 'frothing', saying tellingly: 'But if [Modernism] was really so bad, and if it was really confined to a tiny and irrelevant coterie, why does it look so good in the show, and why was it so all-pervasive in its influence?'

Modernism was undeniably political, but to lazily characterise it as pure aesthetic despotism that played well with both fascism and communism is simplistic in the extreme. The most enduring and successful manifestations of Modernism were capitalistic, responding to market forces and, more importantly, shaping that market. Think of the shopping malls of Victor Gruen, or the crisp consumer electronics of Sony, Braun and now Apple. All 'Modernist' yetultimately concerned with economics rather than ideology. Even architecture got in on the act. Annabel Jane Wharton's Building the Cold War: Hilton International Hotels and Modern Architecture demonstrates how Conrad Hilton saw his hotels as 'bulwarks against the communist threat', little recreations of American society parachuted into the buffer zones of the Cold War in an attempt to halt the dreaded domino effect. Today, Conrad is better known as Paris's great-grandfather, while Hilton Hotels are asexual and bland; buildings that do nothing to advance any kind of cultural agenda, let alone a political one.

*

Other things. Vertical Inc has a weblog charting the ins and outs of Japanese culture / the Museum of Ephemera / The Modern House has moved into French real estate, especially this one / Placeopeida (via white label) / absolutely terrifying 'whole tree shredding' machine, which doesn't appear to do much in the way of actually re-using the mulched-up bits of forest it leaves behind. For very lazy lumberjacks.

The whole NY Post payola scandal is great, the kind of thing the British couldn't even dream of: a gossip columnist with a Skull and Bones-branded clothing ('with a unique prep-punk sensibility'), tries to extort monthly payments from a billionaire in return for keeping him off the infamous Page Six of the New York Post. Imagine if the 3AM girls were getting bungs from Katie Melua, or Jamie Cullum.

This kind of banal speculation would make Dale Peck blow chunks. The infamous critic entirely fails to get into the spirit of tmn's TOB, claiming his two assigned contestants will do little more than inspire terrorist acts, '...books like these make me want to join al Qaeda.'

Back to the refuge of retro. Drink Me, a weblog / retro illustration by S.Britt (via mod*mom) / Gas, Tires, Oil, a weblog about getting your hands greasy / nice System 7 simulator (via fosfor gadgets), with a great version of Asteroids / the Twentieth Century Society has commissioned proposals to save the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace / the Dora gun / Love/Hate t-shirt.

Somehow we found this Bird Flu Weblog in our referrers / play xblocks, one more step on the road to authentic Star Wars-style hologram chess (via we make money not art, which is one of the many nominees for the 2006 Webby Awards) / big in our house right now, Bing Bunny. Highly recommended.