What is Luxury?

Posted on by Beyond Bespoke

This Saturday, one of the most hotly anticipated exhibitions of the year opens at the V&A titled What is Luxury?, a V&A and Crafts Council Exhibition sponsored by Northacre. From a diamond made from roadkill to a vending machine stocked with DNA, a golden crown for ecclesiastical use to traditional military tailoring, more than 100 objects will address how luxury is made and understood in a physical, conceptual and cultural sense

© Studio Drift, FF3 CC, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

The opening section of the exhibition will consider objects defined as luxurious by the excellence of their design and craftsmanship. This includes the Space Travellers’ Watch, an entirely handcrafted mechanical timepiece by British watchmaker George Daniels; a laser-cut haute couture dress by fashion designer Iris van Herpen; a chandelier by Studio Drift featuring real dandelion seeds applied by hand to LED lights (above); a Hermès Talaris saddle which combines traditional leather craftsmanship with a technologically innovative structure; and the Bubble Bath necklace by Nora Fok, made from more than 1,000 hand-knitted nylon bubbles. Time Elapsed, a large spirograph designed by Philippe Malouin for glassware company Lobmeyr which rotates to draw patterns made of sand, comments on the time-intensive process of making fine crystal and will act as a centrepiece.

Bowls by the artist Chung Hae-Cho created by building up multiple layers of lacquer are placed alongside a menswear ensemble by designer Carol Christian Poell, known for his devotion to critically examining and perfecting techniques of tailoring. The grouping demonstrates how a high level of expertise is refined and investigated in making exquisitely finished objects.

The exhibition explores the connections between craftsmanship and luxury 

Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director, Crafts Council said: “We are delighted to collaborate with the V&A on this third exhibition following Out of the Ordinary (2007) and Power of Making (2011), which both delighted audiences by offering new perspectives on craft. What is Luxury? brings together the distinctive expertise of our two institutions to explore the intricate connections between craftsmanship and luxury. Over 100 remarkable objects will look beyond the widely understood perceptions of luxury involving skill, time and rarity to question what luxury means in the 21st century and in the future.”

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‘The Boltham Legacy’, Henrik Nieratschker, 2014, © Henrik Nieratschker

The exhibition will also speculate about the future of luxury by presenting a range of design and art projects. These will help to interrogate the relationships between luxury, value and materials. Hair Highway by Studio Swine sets human hair in resin to create highly decorative pieces of furniture and accessories. The rich surfaces of the objects on display are reminiscent of valuable but limited luxury materials such as tortoiseshell, horn and exotic wood, but are made of one of the few natural resources which increases along with the world’s population. Aram Mooradian’s A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions re-examines our relationship with gold, a finite luxury material. Everyday objects made from gold mined in Australia, including a headphone jack and a pendant, are engraved with personal local histories to encode them with a new cultural value. Also on display will be work by Unknown Fields Division, including vessels made from toxic mud collected on a recent expedition to the Rare Earth Elements’ mines in Inner Mongolia.

Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one 

Through the movement from more traditional explanations of luxury to conceptual projects, What is Luxury? aims to take visitors on a journey and prompt them to consider what luxury means and how it relates to their own lives. Visiting research fellow Leanne Wierzba, co-curator of the exhibition, says, “What is Luxury? will reveal the stories and craftsmanship behind the exquisite and intriguing objects on display and demonstrate the precision, time and application of skills invested to produce them.” V&A curator of Contemporary Furniture Jana Scholze and co-curator of What is Luxury?, adds, “As its 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. Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one.”

What is Luxury?, a V&A and Crafts Council exhibition, sponsored by Northacre, is at the V&A from 25 April – 27 September 2015,

This FREE exhibition takes place in the Porter Gallery. The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays

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