V&A Dundee reopens in style with new nightclub exhibition

Glasgow Sub Club taken by Brian Sweeney

Exploring six decades of club culture and design, Night Fever: Designing Club Culture delivers more than just an exciting return to gallery spaces

The V&A will be reopening its doors to visitors on Sat 1 May with a UK-exclusive exhibition – Night Fever: Designing Club Culture.

Developed by the Vitra Design Museum and Brussel's ADAM Design Museum, the exhibition explores the relationship between club culture and design from the 60s to now, through a range of installations celebrating the music, fashion, creativity and expression of some of the wildest decades in history.

The fascinating evolution of nightclubs is captured through the display of films, posters, photographs and floor plans of the world's most infamous nightlife venues, from Manchester's La Haçienda to New York's Studio 54.

Studio 54 by Bill Bernstein and Hasse Persson

The exhibition begins with the Italian discotheques of the 60s, where it becomes clear that club-goers are, in fact, just living out the fantasies of the designers behind the scenes. Across the pond in the United States, New York's Electric Circus, founded in 1967, saw a supergroup of well-known artists and designers come together to create a completely new and immersive experience. These concepts of exclusivity and celebrity would bleed even more heavily into the 70s, with the founding of Studio 54.

Building to perhaps the height of club culture in the 80s, New York City's Area, founded in 1983, boasted other-worldly interior installations, which would change to a different theme every six weeks. The spaces resembled cutting-edge performance art where attention to detail was abundant. The invitations to Area came in the form of dissolvable pills, mouse traps and 3D glasses. In London's Kinky Gerklinky, the entry policy was only the most outrageous or erotic outfits would pass through the door. It was a different time. Budgets were high, creativity was boundless and the aim was simple – be bold and dance.

As the exhibition moves through 90s rave culture and arrives at the 2000s and 2010s, a change of pace is evident. One specific work by Beijing-based artist Chei Wei raises the question of whether authenticity in nightclub culture has been lost in the social media age. Or maybe we would all just rather sleep through it to make our 7am HIIT class.

Paradise Garage neon sign in V&A Dundee

From the late 2010s to now, brands seem to be spearheading the most innovative events and pop-ups, meaning the exciting invitations of the 80s seem to most closely resemble gifted PR boxes opened by Instagram influencers. But a nod to the popular YouTube Boiler Room sessions aptly represents the most familiar way to enjoy club culture nowadays – behind a screen.

Unique to its run at the V&A Dundee, the exhibition culminates in a room dedicated to Scotland's own club scene. The names of nightclubs are listed on boards and mention venues, both old and new, in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow with particular attention paid to the rich history of Glasgow's Sub Club. Although these make a great 'to visit' lists, they are also slow reminders of the bleak reality independent venues are facing at the moment.

'Silent Disco' Installation

However, against the backdrop of the slow return to socialising and enjoying public spaces, the experience of Night Fever is joyous. Maybe even decadent. No doubt a highlight will be the 'silent disco' installation, where visitors can choose from a number of hanging headphones to live out their disco, house or techno fantasy, under a mirrored ceiling of strobe lights. Once the hands are sanitised and the headphone covers are on, the multi-sensory experience is hard to step away from.

But it may also provoke thought around when we will ever be able to celebrate frivolously again. Enjoy the here and now without a care for how things will be tomorrow. It's a concept that feels alien after the year we've had. But as we take the small steps towards what many are calling the second 'roaring 20s', perhaps we can dare to hope a new era of partying lies ahead of us.

Night Fever: Designing Club Culture runs from Sat 1 May to Jan 2022. Book tickets at vam.ac.uk/dundee

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

Night Fever: Designing Club Culture

Exhibition on the history of nightclub design in New York, Paris, Manchester, London, Berlin and Scotland and its impact on popular culture.

V&A Dundee

Sun 9 May

£6–£12 tickets for both venue and exhibition are required / 01382 411611

Mon 10 May

£6–£12 tickets for both venue and exhibition are required / 01382 411611

Thu 13 May

£6–£12 tickets for both venue and exhibition are required / 01382 411611

…and 173 more dates until 9 Jan 2022

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