Never being one to dodge a challenge, so with the aid of the few hundred thousand words in the English Oxford Dictionary, I set out to answer the burning question posed by Jana Scholze curator of the V&A latest exhibition What Is Luxury. Having never before been let down by the EOD, true to form the words tumble from the page, Sumptuousness, Grandeur, Splendour, my personal favourite (Inessential) which seems oddly thin and lifeless next to words like Lavish and Opulence. But of course life is never that simple and luxury is subjective. One persons haute cuisine is another persons curry sauce with their sausage and chips. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “To the hungry man a piece of bread is the face of god”.
Holding an exhibition about luxury at the V&A is a bit like opening a Oxfam shop in Angelina Jolie’s wardrobe, the building is bursting at the seams with every conceivable artefact of luxury and decadence, so in which direction does this exhibition point us.
Jana Scholze who co-curated the exhibition with Leanne Wierzba said” We wanted to question the very idea of what luxury is and to open a debate where it might go in the future”. The first thing I would question would be the thinking behind the jet black walls which I suspect is indicative of exclusivity, yet when coupled with the display captions like pleasure, passion and precision give it an altogether branch of Ratner’s feel, yet the objects displayed conform to the criterion of luxury, if not taste, for some like the great glass pendulum in the first room is boldly vulgar. But vulgarity in itself is not unattractive in a three way relationship with precious metals and fine craftsmanship and in a exhibition co-organised with the Crafts Council there are many exquisite examples of the very best craftsmanship that money can buy.
On the subject of the best that money can buy, luxury goes hand in glove with precision, but precisely how much precision does a person need in their life. The most expensive watch ever made The Patek Caliber comes in at around $5.120.000 and is said to be the most complex watch on earth with 33 components that do everything other then tell the time, which of course it also does with space-age precisely, but so does my watch (give or take a millisecond or two) and I don’t need a degree in engineering or science to use it.
Not even the V&A could afford that bad boy, but they do have the next best thing The Second Space Travellers Watch, George Daniels 1983 which not only tells the time, it looks beautiful.
Another item for the person who has everything, The Necklace Bubble Bath, Nora Fok 2001 which is hand knitted in nylon filament around glass balls, the ultimate labour intensive product, The very idea of an army of people with tiny knitting needles working round the clock to produce such a item justifies its inclusion in the exhibition.
What is luxury is of course an unanswerable question, much depends on not only a perception of what we consider a luxury in a country where most of us already have so much, but also how comfortable we feel about ourselves. But nevertheless as you would expect from the home of bling this is a well put together exhibition and well worth a visit.
What is Luxury V&A 25 April until 27 September
Pictures courtesy V&A