The power of making – V&A exhibition review

Last weekend I went to the V&A’s Power Of Making exhibition with my husband and mother-in-law. I hadn’t really read the blurb and guessed it would be all about handcrafts. We’d originally been intending to go to the much larger Postmoderism exhibition but didn’t have enough time for it, whereas Power of Making was nicely sized to fit in between lunch and meeting up with more family afterwards.

I was wrong about the handcrafts. There were quite a few handmade items in the show, but there was also a large section about 3D printing, and many of the objects on display clearly involved some industrial processes. In fact I’m still not entirely sure what the unifying theme of the exhibition was meant to be as everything in the V&A is some kind of ‘artefact’. If you want nature untouched by human hands you go down the road to the Natural History and Geology Museums. I think the best description of it was one on the exhibition website: just ‘a cabinet of curiosities’.

So what curiosities were there? There were three or four unusual bicycles, including one made from steam-shaped mahogany, and one entirely encrusted in Swarovski crystals. One thing that really sticks in my mind, just for the ‘ewww’ factor, is a cake made in the shape of a baby. It’s beautifully done with sculpted marzipan painted very realistically. And it still grosses me out slightly every time I think about it. At the highly practical end of the scale there were lovingly made non-art items such as a drystone wall, a flute, a saddle, and a government red box. (Did you know red boxes have the locks on the bottom so that ministers can’t walk off with them unlocked? Clever.)

For sewists there were two particularly interesting exhibits. The first is a system for making spray-on clothes, and the second is a full length black leather evening dress covered in what must be tens of thousands of sharp pins. They were described as ‘dressmaker pins’ but they’re more the size of macramé pins. Not the sort of thing you could wear on the tube; in fact not the sort of thing you could wear at all, but utterly spectacular.

So it’s not the best exhibition at the V&A I have ever seen, but it’s so eclectic it has something for most people. There were lots of other weird and wonderful things I could mention, including a giant gorilla made from coat-hanger wire and an L-shaped briefcase. There were a lot of people there with their kids. I think it’s worth a look if you’re in the area. I’m still hoping to make it to Postmodernism at some point too.