The First London Austerity Olympic Games took place in 1948 so it’s no surprise that as we approach the second, there have been a number of attempts to draw comparisons between the UK as it is now and was was in the wake of the War. The Jubilee celebrations did little to dampen our enthusiasm for introspection and retrospection.
The V&A is staging one of the most prominent manifestations of this enthusiasm with its current exhibition of British design between 1948 and 2012. The three galleries devoted to the exhibits trace the ideas and objects that have shaped British design over the past 64 years. The great joy for visitors is not merely the frisson of nostalgia and love for beautifully designed and iconic objects, but the opportunity to muse about what they tell us about the country we were and what we have become.
Modern Britain was forged as the post-war government sought to kick-start the economy and rebuild society. And yet, the modern world never completely supplanted the traditional, which is why British design habitually harks back to the past. Many favourites are here including the E-Type Jaguar and the Mini, the polyprop chair, the Sex Pistols poster, the Brownie camera along with modern innovations such as the Dyson vacuum cleaner and the iMac G3. The story of the objects is told strikingly, and even the more familiar products are presented in an interesting way. Yet the true joy lies in reading between the lines: of the twin pulls of the modern and the traditional and of the enduring quality of British design and innovation betrayed by the dramatic decay of its manufacturing base which means that the best British designed products are now usually made somewhere else. The show runs until August 31.