Sixty years of creativity at the V&A
I finally made it to the V&A’s wonderful exhibition of British Design this weekend. It’s on until the 12th August so if you haven’t been, have a chance to go and fancy feeling rather proud of what we can do on this little island, I recommend a visit.
But I left feeling mildly politicised. The exhibition begins with John Piper’s wonderful design for Coventry cathedral and ends with Sir Norman Foster’s Gherkin. It begins with the signage system for our roads and ends with the Orange phone logo. It begins with plans for affordable housing and ends with a funky chicken coop. All the designs are fantastic in their own right, but something has changed. I guess, sequentially, we go on a journey from design for the state or of the state to our current emphasis on private enterprise. Design takes its commissions where it can find them. I am very grateful to private enterprise, it pays my wages, but it does feel to me that via Thatcherism and ‘the big society’, we have perhaps lost our sense of ambitious ‘for everyone’ national endeavour.
Clearly the world has changed and the contrast between the British made Mini Cooper (designed by a Czech) in the show’s early stages and the Chinese made iMac (Designed by a Brit) at its close says a lot. Indeed one might ask, could we even effectively manage state run projects now? The sagas of the Eurofighter and our latest aircraft carrier put a question mark over this.
But there seems to be nostalgia for those earlier days. This poster was one of many on sale in the gift shop that indicate as much. Once even marketing seemed to be all about ‘us’ rather than individuals and demographics. Perhaps as the downturn grinds on and we all look for some comfort we might be more open to a ‘nanny state’ that took more control of our design talent and which gave it more opportunity to serve the nation. The topics of politics, economics and society put me way out of my depth. But I was left with a niggling feeling that our state could be doing more to invest in Britain via design rather than leaving it all to the big society of the private sector.