Saturday, January 10, 2009

Victoria and Albert Museum

Our last stop while in London was the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum), so-named for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. It is a decorative art and design museum and featured all manner of statues, tapestries, clothing, furniture, etc. We took a free museum tour that described several of their best items, including the world's oldest dated carpet (Persian, of course) and an Italian sculpture, Samson slaying a Philistine.

One of the most interesting things we saw, though, was a special exhibit called Cold War Modern, which was an examination of the way the Cold War shaped art and design for both camps. Anxiety about the bomb lead to some very bleak and futuristic design work, like house/city of the future concepts that depicted a way of life divorced from the natural world. One of the aspects of the exhibit that I found the most interesting was the examination of Cold War era propaganda materials. A war of propaganda wasn't an idea exclusive to the Eastern Bloc; the United States was also out actively touting its superior way of life via images of household appliances and personal automobiles. The best example of the back-and-forth was a Soviet exhibition in New York and the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. A model of an American kitchen at the latter was the site of the famous kitchen debate between then US VP Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

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