The subtitular ‘modern’ demands qualification. This book does not address such peculiarly modern phenomena as the revival of religion and of justification by faith, the resurgence of regional accents, the idolisation of dull chefs and their fatuous foams, the triumph of halfwitted populism. Deyan Sudjic is, rather, in accord with the scurrying courtier Hugh Casson, one of his predecessors as a panjandrum of the architectural and design establishment, who talked of the modern ‘in our specialised sense’ – which means, very broadly, related to or derived from the modern movement, which is a century old (so not actually modern in a more mundane sense). In the milieu which Sudjic inhabits (and has partially created), a flat-roofed orthogonal white villa on stilts built in 1934 is modern in our specialised sense while an ‘executive home’ with leaded lights and fibreglass ‘beams’ built eighty years later is not. It is merely modern, sans quotes. This can be confusing. It is sufficient to propose that if Sudjic anoints an object or a design it is very likely to be modern in our specialised sense, thus very likely fit to figure in an exhibition at the Design Museum, of which he is the Director, cap D. Part of the appeal of this book resides in much of it feeling like a series of missives from an apostle of some hieratic cult – the Covenant of the Matt Black Gizmo, say. Each missive ends with a little homily.
It’s a sort of testament, an oblique portrait of a numbingly materialistic microcosm where (mostly) minimalistic objects are fetishised, where fashion is doggedly followed, where failures of taste are matters of obloquy, where style is not understood in the sense of l’homme même but as the result of a process