V&A: Strange objects of desire

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

An eerie exhibition of limited-edition art and design at the V&A owes its inspiration to the worlds of fantasy and fairytales. Charlotte Cripps reports

The V&A's new exhibition Telling Tales delves into the fantastical world of contemporary design, taking visitors on a mind-blowing journey through furniture, lighting and ceramics, all inspired by the spirit of storytelling.

On entering the museum, you set off across the first of three fairy-tale settings – a forest glade, with translucent gauze screens printed with branches, to the sound of tweeting birds.

You stumble across the angel-wing-shaped Fig Leaf wardrobe, designed by Tord Boontje, and made from 616 hand-painted copper leaves, complete with handy tree branches inside on which to hang your clothes. Boontje's Princess chair is upholstered in flouncy taffeta and satin, like a bride, while his Witch chair is more sinister, draped in smooth black leather scales.

These are just some of the works on show at the V&A by a new generation of international designers, many from the Netherlands, whose often child-like Design Art is traded through galleries in the same way as fine art.

The surreal Bathboat, by Wieki Somers, is a small boat with taps that fills with water, while the wonky Sculpt wardrobe, by Maarten Baas, looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The Linen-Cupboard-House, with a spare bed in the back, could be a fairytale cottage and Patrik Fredrikson's table, made out of a bundle of logs, recalls the woodcutters of fairytales.

Next comes the enchanted castle, a palatial pile where grandfather clocks chime. Here, rococo scroll wallpaper provides the perfect backdrop to a muddle of extravagant objects, trappings of high social status, which subvert the lavishness of late-Victorian design.

Both the Pixelated chair by Jurgen Bey and the Clone chair by Julian Mayor seem familiar because their design plays on the historical shapes of Rococo furniture, without the traditional gold leaf and silk upholstery.

There is a monumental cast bronze cabinet from Studio Job's Robber Baron series with a bomb crater seemingly blasted right through its centre and a table with a bronze billowing cloud of pollution, rising from the four towers of a factory. Created in 2006 and first exhibited at the Miami Art Fair in 2007, this series, subtitled "Tales of power, corruption, art and industry, cast in bronze" satirises the excessive tastes of the super-rich.

A red rose motif carpet by Kiki van Eijk looks like an enlargement of a doll's house carpet while the glamorous solid marble Cinderella table, by Jeroen Verhoeven, reportedly purchased by Brad Pitt, combines the profiles of an 18th-century console and commode.

Sebastian Brajkovic's two-seater Lathe Chair VIII is cast in bronze, like sculpture, but remains functional. It is constructed by rotating 19th-century chair shapes around a central axis to stretch them, giving the appearance of a speeding object caught on film.

Elsewhere, the ornate rococo scroll Heat Wave radiator made from cast concrete by Joris Laarman climbs across the wall like a rose bush and a lantern Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend 1 by Matali Crasset, resembles a huge diamond pendant. Towering tulip vases resembling pagodas have been given a modern makeover by four contemporary designers. The fashion designer Alexander van Slobbe's vase consists of stacked boxes in the shape of furniture, dishes and perfume bottles, in which to store fashion and beauty accessories, rather than blooms.

Maarten Baas's 19th-century French Smoke Mirror is charred after the designer took to it with a blow torch. He was inspired by the 18th-century novel where the inner destruction of characters was often mirrored by the disrepair of the furnishings around them.

The last stop in the exhibition is Heaven and Hell, a disorientating, dark dungeon-like setting, with menacing music and moving shadows. A burst of red colour that floods the ceiling at intervals suggests blood.

Inspired by the rise of psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th century and a fresh awareness of mortality, these objects summon up death, judgement and anxiety.

The 19th-century taxidermy fox Do You Hear What I Hear? by Kelly McCallum, embellished with gold-plated maggots in its ears, the luxurious Moulded Moles slippers by Eijk and Van der Lubbe and Ophelia, a sleeping lioness whose torso is made of golden ceramic and glass blobs by Dutch design duo, Idiots, reflect a new interest in taxidermy in art and design.

It's hard to believe that "La Divina Commedia" chair and lamp by Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe is intended as a functional object. The axe-shaped white lamp suspended perilously above the chair is inspired by Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy.

Sensory Deprivation Skull, a large skull-shaped, fur-lined chamber for two people, by Joep van Lieshout, provides space for introspection. While the ingenious Hide Away Type 02 personal panic room, an oak box by British designers Dunne & Raby and Cypriot-born Michael Anastassiades, is an ideal shelter for when the going gets tough.

Likewise, the mini metal Buildings of Disaster (including the Twin Towers) by Boym Partners act as psychological containers, into which anxieties can be offloaded. And huggable explosion cushions, such as Priscila 37 kilotons Nevada 1957, which capture the moment of explosion in a soft cushion, is supposed to help to defuse the fear of nuclear annihilation by literally embracing it.

Maxim Velcovsky's Catastrophe vase is covered in earth as if it has survived an earthquake, and more romantically The Lovers rug by Fredrikson Stallard comprises two pools of red urethane, representing the quantity of blood in two people.

And as you leave the exhibition, the illuminated chandelier Damned MGX by Luc Merx glows from inside a whirl of 170 tumbling human figures.

"All the work in the exhibition crosses the boundaries between art and design because each object carries a meaning beyond its traditional function," says the curator Gareth Williams, who is senior tutor of design products at the Royal College of Art and who was formerly curator of 20th-century and contemporary furniture at the V&A. " Whilst the designers are drawing upon fine art modes of practice and distribution they do not necessarily cast themselves as artists. They inhabit a place between the conventional boundaries of art, craft and design."

Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design at the V&A, from today to 18 October ( www.vam.ac.uk)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls


The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence