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PoMo goes to rehab

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[THIS WEEK] Don’t panic, but Postmodernism looks like it might be on the up, writes James Pallister

As a 15-year-old music snob, there were quite a few things which were unthinkable: missing Radio 1’s Evening Session, admitting to liking ‘electronic’ music, that sort of thing. One of the most inalienable constants of this bundle of prejudices was that mid-eighties New Romantic poseurs like Duran Duran could never, ever be taken seriously as Proper Music. The idea that anyone with any genuine cool had ever listened to these groups was as laughable as, say, the idea of functioning adults eating mud, or your friend’s dog driving a Lamborghini.

Well things change. Pop will eat itself: I now have Duran Duran in my (virtual) tape collection, in a non-ironic way. Which brings us to Postmodernism: long a mainstay for sneering derision, it looks like it may be on the up. While it may not be enjoying a full-blown comeback, three forthcoming events at least see it enter a prolonged period of rehabilitation.

The big one is James Stirling: Notes from the Archive, on show at Tate Britain, which comes a year after Alan Berman’s Jim Stirling and the Red Trilogy, a book that reconsidered Stirling’s legacy (AJ 12.08.10). In June the ICA will host Pablo Bronstein, known for his paintings which reconfigure elements of classical architecture in unexpected ways. And in the autumn, the V&A will top off their 2006 mega-show Modernism with Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990. Designed by Carmody Groarke Architects, it’ll feature Philip Johnson’s AT&T building, Jeff Koons and the Memphis group aplenty.

There’s something unnerving about cultural production which routinely plunders past decades’ art, design or fashion. But there’s more to this process of reclassification than an ever-quickening cultural churn. And that’s the same thing that makes once-reviled buildings become a loved part of the streetscape. Think the Eiffel Tower, the National Theatre, or heaven forbid, The AcelorMittal Orbit. As Pierre Bourdieu wrote, ‘taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier’:
acceptability is a shifting target, constantly renegotiated between object and viewer.

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