Tim Walker's 'Wonderful Things' at the V&A: a Review

Flicking through the polished pages of Vogue, one always feels like an outsider desperately looking in. The models, posing in unearthly dreamscapes, are too flawless to be of our world, let alone of our species. They romp in impossible gowns and toss their elaborate locks, rarely deigning to meet our inferior eyes. Now, however, the glossy veneer separating us from these perfect creatures has been shattered, and one can finally step into the alien environment that they inhabit. It was Tim Walker who decided to break down this wall and let us in.

Walker is a deservingly revered fashion photographer, contributing to legendary publications such as Vogue, W, Love, and i-D - to name but a few. ‘Wonderful Things’ is his largest exhibition to date, colonising London’s Victoria and Albert museum. But rather than simply hanging his work in those echoing marble halls, Walker’s pieces populate a twisting, turning dream sequence. An artificial hallucination has been forged for the exhibition, every room an abrupt change of scenery with a distinct mood, aesthetic, soundscape, and muse.

The latter refers to an artefact in every room, selected by Walker from the V&A’s collection, which inspired each photoshoot. A chaotic ancient Indian painting gives rise to a colour-riot photoshoot in a field of blazing blooms, bedazzled models lounging in billowing Gucci and riding rainbow-hued fibreglass animals, several of which prowl the room (look up). A tiny Chinese snuff box, upon which an opal dragon glows in the counterfeit moonlight, inspires whimsical scenes of a lonely empress dashing through the night on her pet dragon. Provocative Victorian line drawings of debauched lords and ladies spur a series of portraits in which black clad models melt seamlessly into lashes of ink on a stark white canvas. All ten rooms of the exhibition follow this precedent, with wildly diverse muses and equally eclectic results.

The stunning artefacts and Walker’s photographs are incredible works in themselves, and could certainly be displayed without all heady scenery and atmospheric soundtracks. In fact, the first room is a spotlessly white space, and perhaps the one in which Walker’s work is the most striking. However, said heady scenery is crucial to the immersive experience of the exhibition. One truly feels like a piece in Walker’s collection of wonderful things throughout the show: we are saints bathed in celestial light from a projected stained-glass window in the ‘Illuminations’ room, we are guests at a kitsch-gone-crazy house party in the ‘Box of Delights’ room, and we are delicately-wrapped pieces of art in the gauzy ‘Handle with Care’ room. This feat of environmental manipulation could only be achieved by a mind as imaginative and pioneering as Walker’s.

The photographer’s sheer dedication not only to his craft (who else is building enormous dolls for their models to pose with, or having real lions sit patiently with them on piano stools?), but also to his viewer’s experience of it, is truly astounding. It is Walker’s attention to detail, boundless creativity, and utter expertise that have made this into something so much more than an exhibition. This is a chance to step into Walker’s mind, into that fantastical universe inhabited only by the beautiful creatures of Vogue and the catwalks. This is a chance to step away from the chaos of the modern world and turn a blind eye to the turmoil. No agenda, no subliminal messages, come one and all: take a moment to enjoy all the wonderful things.

 

Review by Tau Nell

 


Updated: 2:34pm on 25th February 2020

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arts and culture london arts in london