Hertford Museum’s ‘Kitsch’ Exhibition, 2017

'Kitsch' seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and divide opinion. It is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.'

Hertford Museum got in touch to see whether they could borrow any items from our collection for their exhibition, ‘Kitsch! An Exploration of Taste’ held between July and September 2017.

Their aim was to examine the diversity of personal taste and why we are drawn to certain stylistic elements.  So we found three wallpapers that some might consider to fit the category:

Wallpaper sample of roses and a bird 1900-1950

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Abstract design of circles squares grids and dots wallpaper sample around 1970

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Sanitary wallpaper sample featuring tropical fish designed by Alan Shillingford for Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd in 1958.

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They date from the 1950s to 1970. Is it kitsch to paper a bathroom with a design featuring multi-coloured fish? These days you could buy a tropical fish clear resin toilet seat to complete the look. Hertford Museum also found a particularly garish flamingo design to paper a wall of their exhibition space.

View of the exhibition space at hertford museum with flamingo wallpaper on one wall

The exhibition included clothing, ceramics and furniture and explored kitsch music and kitsch Art. But deciding what to include was not easy. As design historian Judy Attfield has noted, “One of the most difficult tasks has been to produce even a working definition of kitsch. There are countless definitions of poor or bad taste but definitions of kitsch are rare.”  The term is often used to dismiss popular taste or to denigrate the tastes of people who are ‘not like us’.

A range of audiences enjoyed the exhibition at Hertford Museum, and participated in associated events. Pauline Palmer from the University of Hertfordshire gave a talk about the history of Kitsch, and led into a discussion of our love-hate relationship with the art form. Over the summer children could drop in and design a vibrant wallpaper collage, decorate a box to take home using decoupage or make a clay figurine inspired by the exhibition.

For suggestions for further reading on ideas about kitsch and taste please see our online reading list.

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