The Victoria & Albert Museum’s “What is luxury?” exhibition challenges our modern interpretation of this elusive but enthralling notion, as K magazine reports….
The 21st century definition of luxury is a subjective thing.
Luxury noun lux·u·ry \
• a condition or situation of great comfort, ease, and wealth
• something that is expensive and not necessary
• something that is helpful or welcome and that is not usually or always available
In this busy, hyper-connected world, despite a backdrop of political uncertainty, a booming luxury goods market and rising social inequality – there is something undeniably alluring about the concept of luxury.
It is human nature to seek out the high life, whether you choose to shop “luxury” loo roll or lemon curd from your local supermarket, or live vicariously through celebrities flying private jet on Instagram. Or perhaps your ultimate luxury is simply stealing a spare fifteen minutes to savour a cup of tea in silence.
So, what is luxury? It’s a question posed by the title of the V&A’s latest exhibition. Put on in partnership with the Crafts Council, it displays over 100 remarkable objects, which look beyond the widely understood perceptions of luxury and focus on skill, time and rarity to question what luxury means these days. It also examines how our perceived ideas of luxury will evolve in the future.
From a gold-plated skimming stone, to a concrete chandelier and Hair Highway by Studio Swine – human hair set in resin to create furniture – the subject is vast and complex. Dominic Wilcox, the maker of the stone, has a beautifully simple take on what luxury means to him, however. “I find luxury in things that feel personal and move me emotionally,” he says.
Elsewhere, American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine containing pre-packaged DNA samples, invites visitors to consider our increasing access to biotechnology, and how privacy may become a luxury in the future.
In the installation The Boltham Legacy, artist Henrik Nieratschker tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant planets. The piece speculates about the luxury of having exclusive access to the planet’s resources.
As the title suggests, the exhibition questions the very idea of luxury today. “It will challenge common interpretations of luxury, invite close examination of luxury production and extend ideas of what luxury can be,” says V&A curator of Contemporary Furniture Jana Scholze and co-curator of the exhibition. “Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one.”
The exhibition draws to a close with The Last Man’s Seat, by the Last Man. It is a chair, in a room with a cup of tea resting on its arm. His ability to dream, and make his own decisions, all while savouring a cup of tea is a stolen, luxurious moment indeed.
“What is luxury?” – Until 27th September at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. For further information about Kering, go to www.kering.com.