The Victoria and Albert Museum want to find out what luxury is in this latest exhibition as part of the joint V&A and Crafts Council series.
From Aram Mooradian’s A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions to a laser-cut haute couture dress by Iris van Herpen, the display aims to expand visitor’s minds as to what luxury is, looking beyond the material that an object is made from into the process of making the objects.
The first section of the display is easily the most glamorous because of the focus on the design and craftsmanship of the objects selected for this part. Many of the objects celebrate the length of time and the application of skill in the process of making these luxury objects.
Throughout this display, the visitor constantly questions themselves about what luxury means to them. For example there are some objects such as Monkey Business made by Studio Job in 2013, that immediately says ‘luxury’ because of the types of material that has been used to create it (in this case a mixture of bronze, Swarovski crystals and silver leaf among other materials).
But there are others that suggest luxury in a more subtle way, such as the bubble bath necklace created Nora Folk which was made from more than 1000 hand-knitted nylon bubbles – which is considered to be luxury because of the process and time consumed in creating it.
This is what makes the exhibition fascinating. It teaches us to look beyond the materials that are used to make luxury and concentrate more on the process and time it takes to create the object from ordinary to extraordinary.
However, it also shows visitors that as poverty and social inequality rises, luxury has become more controversial and harder to justify. Is it acceptable to have luxury cars etc when other people (particularly in the third world) consider food and water their luxuries and do we take these things for granted?
With each object and as the exhibition develops, there is a sense that the display is uncovering new and different interpretations for luxury as it has developed over the years. It re-examines our relationship with certain materials such as gold and crystal, giving us a new perspective on luxury as a whole.
But despite this it feels as though the display is lacking in conviction in what it is trying to say and certainly leaves more questions than answers – but then as it seems to hint: luxury is really whatever you make it to be. This is exactly how you leave this exhibition feeling.