Questioning Luxury

Luxury (n) Possession and use of all appliances for gratifying the senses, a thing that one enjoys, a desirable thing that can be done without, luxurious surroundings.

Luxurious (a) fond of, – self-indulgent, contributing to or full of – very comfortable

These are the definitions of luxury according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English.  I suppose that in common with most people I associate luxury with comfort, wealth, a bit of decadence, maybe ostentation as well.  Luxury brands to me are names like Prada, Mulberry, Versace.  Luxurious things are made from high quality materials.  With this in mind I was interested to see that the Victoria and Albert Museum together with the Crafts Council are currently holding an exhibition which talks about the creation of luxury.  It is not a big exhibition and is free to enter.  A wood veneered panel which divides the exhibition room has these words printed on it:

Passion, Exclusivity, Innovation, Extra-ordinary, Non-Essential, Precision, Investment, Pleasure, Preciousness, Experience, Opulence.  Skill, Memory, Authenticity, Resource, Legacy, Journey, Privacy, Access.

All of these words are associated with the way most people think about luxury.  With all this in mind, I was a little perturbed when confronted with the objects on display.  A mix of some things from the V&A collection which literally conveyed all the previously identified associations of luxury alongside new items made by highly skilled artists.  There is no doubting the exceptional skill level involved in the creation of many of the items on display, but I am not sure I would really classify it as Craft, or the makers as Craftsmen.  Undoubtedly the quality of manufacture is exceptionally high, but the objects are the result of equally high conceptual thinking, which really, to my mind puts them firmly in the realm of Fine Art.  Some of the objects were fully functional such as wrist watches by Vacheron, cups in resin and porcelain, jewellery, a briefcase and various items of clothing.  the actual artefacts – a Howdah c1840, gold jewelled crown c1750 and a chausible c1670-95 to name a few are quite obviously luxury objects.  Other items were less obviously so and indeed in some cases it was hard to imagine (and I have a very good imagination) what their purpose was intended to be.

packTime for Yourself by Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby

I have not real idea what this is although it is supposed to be a kit for making time to think about oneself.  Perhaps it is an accessory for the current craze for Mindfulness?

bubblesBubblebath Neckpiece by Nora Folk

Made from nylon filaments this neckpiece is as beautiful as it is wearable and made from a non-luxury material.

glue chairs

The Rise of the Plasticsmith by Gangjian Cui

Thermoliquid plastic furniture.  These looked more like they had been made with a glue gun.  Not what you would normally associate with luxury, even if there had been a seismic shift in world order!


Repair is Beautiful (chair) by Paulo Goldstein

A broken canvas and wood garden directors chair is repaired  twine, steel and rope.  Not a particularly comfortable chair to start with, these repairs would make it even less so i would imagine!

hair table

Hair Highway by Studio Swine

This art deco style dressing table set screams opulence – until that is you discover it is made from human hair and resin! It is stunning nevertheless.

All in all it is a strange exhibition although possibly a little heavy on concept which may very well go over the heads of many visitors.  Sadly on the day I visited there were no information leaflets available.  There are text panels beside many of the exhibits but these generally talk about the ‘concept’ behind the making of the piece which is fine – if this was a Fine Art show.

Personally I would have liked to have seen something more detailed about the thinking of the curators when assembling the exhibition, or maybe I have simply missed the whole point!  An odd one, but worth a look if you are at the V&A with some time to spare.


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
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