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Best of British at the V&A

Frankie Unsworth visits a British design retrospective at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Best of British at the V&A


May 3rd, 2012

This year Britain is all about, well, Britain.

As the country rejoices in hosting the Olympics and we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond jubilee, a sense of patriotism is all pervading.

It’s on our television screens and domestic tourism campaigns (’This is Great’), our museum exhibitions and department store shelves, groaning under the weight of Union Jack memorabilia.

Jumping on the introspective bandwagon is this latest exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert museum, ’British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age’.



British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition. 2012 © V&A Images

This chapter of British design traces the period since Britain last hosted the Olympic Games, the ’Austerity Games’, to this year’s lavish affair manifested in Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre (a model of which concludes the exhibit).


Aquatics Centre for the London 2012 Olympic Games, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, completed 2011; shown in Legacy mode © Zaha Hadid Architects

The 1948 games were the first to take place in the wake of WWII in a city still bearing the casualties of the wartime destruction.

Across the three distinctive rooms the exhibition examines key themes of the period in design: “the tension between tradition and modernity; the subversive impulse in British culture; and Britain’s leadership in design innovation and creativity”.


Alexander McQueen, Evening gown, Autumn-Winter 2009. Image courtesy Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images


Jaguar E-Type, 1961, Jaguar Heritage


Margaret Calvert and Jack Kinneir for the Ministry of Transport, Children crossing sign, 1964. © Margaret Calvert

With over 300 objects on display, each commemorating significant moments in British design – ranging from a Terence Conran space divider to David Bowie’s knitted Ziggy Stardust all-in-one costume, and a Dyson vacuum – this is unashamed celebration of British-ness.

Just in case you weren’t feeling patriotic enough, accompanying the exhibit is a soundtrack of British greats echoing out of a dark screening room of music videos; Strawberry Fields Forever and ’Ghostown’ by ska sensations The Specials.

From a biased Briton’s perspective, what can I say? “This is Great.”


Brian Long, Torsion chair, 1971. By kind permission of Brian Long. © Victoria and Albert Museum


Antelope bench, Ernest Race for the Festival of Britain, manufactured by Race Furniture, 1951. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Hero image: Jamie Reid, God Save the Queen poster promoting the Sex Pistols, 1977 © Jamie Reid. Photograph by Victoria and Albert Museum

British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age runs at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum until 12 August 2012


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