The Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England, poses a recurring question, what is luxury? For centuries, philosophers and scholars have tried to shed light on the subject, but not even the dictionary definition satisfies our fascination with the term. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, luxury is 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.
Body 1, Re-materialisation of systems. El Ultimo Grito, 2014. © Photos by POI.
Perhaps the aim of the exhibition’s organizers is not to provide the ultimate definition, but What Is Luxury? on view from April 25 through September 27, exposes ideas about the meaning of contemporary luxury and offers a terminology as a structuring principle.
Through haute couture (a dress designed by Dutch designer Iris van Herpen); Haute Horlogerie (by British master watchmaker George Daniels), and historical artifacts, handicrafts and modern art, the exhibit sheds light on the creators’ dedication when conceiving each piece. The show begins with the premise that the production of luxury involves—and represents—a huge investment of time and the use of certain skills.
1. Necklace. Bubble Bath; Nora Fok, 2001. Photo Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council.
2. Second Space Traveller Watch; George Daniels, about 1982. © Jasper Gough, Sotheby’s.
3. Time for Yourself; Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby, 2013. © Marcin Rusak.
4. The Boltham Legacy; Henrik Nieratschker, 2014. © Henrik Nieratschker.
Several pieces have been selected—from a golden ecclesiastical crown to traditional military garments—to explain specific terms such as precision, passion, and exclusivity. The established notions of luxury and its conventional interpretations will be challenged. The exhibition will also explore the future of luxury, asking questions about its role in time, space, privacy, welfare, social inclusion and access to resources and skills, as well as in determining our choices and aspirations.
The show will not focus on luxury consumption because the curators feel it would contribute little to the current debate on the subject. "Our curatorial approach is based on the understanding that the meaning of luxury changes according to the social, cultural and economic contexts," the curators argue.
What Is Luxury? follows two other exhibitions organized in collaboration with the Crafts Council in the UK. It will be presented at the Porter Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the admission is free. The exhibit is sponsored by Northacre. ■
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