What Is Luxury? The V&A Has Some Ideas

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 43 months ago
What Is Luxury? The V&A Has Some Ideas ★★★☆☆ 3
An installation image of the exhibition. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London
An installation image of the exhibition. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This remarkably fragile and impractical chandelier features dandelion seed heads in its design. © Studio Drift, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
This remarkably fragile and impractical chandelier features dandelion seed heads in its design. © Studio Drift, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
CIS:Loan:Gilbert.69-2008; CIS:Loan:Gilbert.69:1-2008; CIS:Loan:Gilbert.69:2-2008
An opulent gold 18th century Portuguese crown. © The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
These combs are made using actual human hair. © Studio Swine
These combs are made using actual human hair. © Studio Swine
The intricacies in manufacturing this watch are extremely challenging. © Jasper Gough, Sotheby's
The intricacies in manufacturing this watch are extremely challenging. © Jasper Gough, Sotheby's

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

What is luxury? It's a very broad and subjective question that will vary wildly between different individuals; stretching from super yachts to a simple weekend lie-in. The V&A's interpretation is to focus on luxurious objects in everything from fashion to diamonds in this collection of items ranging from the elegant to the downright impractical.

This covers ancient artefacts such as an elaborate Indian howdah (elephant carriage) and an ornate Venetian church vestment, to the modern day intricacies of a highly complicated clock design. There are also the impractical and ludicrous items such as a gold coated skimming stone, whose sole purpose can only be as a show of wealth.

So far, so predictable. But the second half of this exhibition gets interesting with artists and manufacturers challenging the social constructs around luxury. Shane Mecklenburger has made synthetic diamonds from unglamorous sources such as road kill and gunpowder, while another display imagines a future where plastic is rare and is hand carved into exclusive furniture. A DNA vending machine and furniture that integrates human hair into its manufacture round out an entertaining end to the display.

This small exhibition does offer some insight into the concept of luxury, but we wish it had been braver and explored the impact on the environment and the wasteful way in which certain luxury items and lifestyles are made and sustained. As it stands this is a free to visit collection of some impressive items, but it could have been so much more.

What is Luxury? A V&A and Crafts Council exhibition is on at V&A until 27 September, entrance is free. Also still on at V&A are the brilliant Alexander McQueen blockbuster and the diverse All of this belongs to you. While at the V&A make sure to check out the refurbished cast court.

Nearby you can also see Corals, Butterflies and Wildlife Photography at the Natural History Museum, plus Churchill's scientists and Revelations in photography at the Science Museum

Last Updated 27 April 2015