Posts Tagged ‘Robin Boyd

24
Feb
19

Review: ‘Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design’ at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2018 – 24th March 2019

Curators: Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver

 

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Reclining chair' 1953

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Reclining chair
1953
Steel, cotton cord, rubber
Private collection

 

 

I have always loved the ordered forms, the elegiac simplicity of Clement Meadmore’s designs. Therefore, I very much looked forward to seeing this exhibition. Unfortunately, the installation left me feeling a little alienated both towards the objects themselves but more importantly, the artist and designer.

Simply put, the installation of the works was too clinical and cold, the designs either raised on white boxes or enclosed in metal frames… or both. If their presentation was to engender the idea that this was “art” – the art of mid-century design – by placing them in a “white cube”, isolating them from their functional context (in modernist homes, cafés and restaurants), then I was not buying what the exhibition was selling. The metal frames reminded me of the frame that surrounds some of Francis Bacon’s painting series, Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1946-mid-1960s), making this viewer want to scream at the museum control evidenced here.

The use of black and white walls didn’t help. In a jazz age (Meadmore was the most ardent admirer of jazz music) of music, colour and movement, and when Meadmore painted one of the interiors of his café in bold primary colours, the use of such bland colours seemed puzzling. Both I and my esteemed friend Joyce Evans, who knew Meadmore in New York and often went to the jazz clubs with him there, felt that the exhibition failed to capture the spirit of the artist, his wonderful personality – or the spirit of the age. The closest that the exhibition comes to that spirit, that sense of joie de vivre after the privations of the Second World War, are not works by Meadmore at all, but paintings that appeared on the wall of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956 by Leonard French titled The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor (1956, below). Here is a cacophony of sound, colour and movement redolent of the era.

Other things rankle. The importance of his contribution to the changing nature of the Melbourne art scene, and the Australian art scene in general, cannot be underestimated. Joyce Evans said to me that, as director of Gallery A, Meadmore’s influence on the direction of contemporary art in Melbourne was incredible, his influence in this sphere much more important than any of the designs he ever made. Other than a brief paragraph of wall text (below), there is little investigation into this aspect of Meadmore’s career in Australia. This is not the thrust of this exhibition as shown by its title, but to ignore his curatorial influence on contemporary art in Melbourne is, I believe, a mistake.

Further, while his groundbreaking designs are now presented as “art” – the hypothesis for the exhibition – at the time Meadmore’s sculpture was his art, his passion; his furniture and lighting was his business. What he did to pay the bills. Two facts are pertinent here: the fact that Meadmore did move to New York in 1963 to achieve international prominence as a sculptor, and the fact that after he moved to America he never made another chair. It says a lot about where his passion really lay.

Looking beyond all of these comments, it was absolutely fantastic to see the ordered forms, the simple functionality and elegant design of Meadmore’s objects, with his use of basic, everyday materials such as steel rod and cord to make his now iconic designs. Two things stood out for me. The ingenious sculptural steel base that enables the Calyx lamps to rest in two positions; and the most beautiful and sophisticated design and construction of the structure under a coffee table. The exhibition is worth visiting just to see these two design elements alone. But the work that most captures the spirit of the man better than anything else in this exhibition, and not the “art” on a pedestal, is that of a small welded steel and brass sculpture called The Trumpeter from 1957 (below). This is the man, the artist, in all his effervescence and gregariousness. It’s a pity the exhibition didn’t capture this spirit.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Space should reveal itself to the wandering eye. Furniture should enhance a feeling of space by its non-obstructing presence.”

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Clement Meadmore

 

 

GALLERY 1

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is the first major survey to focus on the industrial design practice of one of Australia’s most internationally successful artists. Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition charts the evolution of Clement Meadmore’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 60s, before he shifted his focus to sculpture, and highlights the role Meadmore played alongside Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers of the mid-century period.

The exhibition sheds light on a time when mid-century tastemakers sought to shape post-war Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city that, through the intersection of art, design and architecture, embodied the ideals and principles of the modernist aesthetic. Meadmore’s first furniture design, a steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951, became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd and receiving the Good Design Award from the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA). The chair would later form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as the Meadmore Originals.

For just over a decade, Meadmore produced a small range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture or lighting, often placed alongside pieces by Frances Burke, Grant Featherston, Fred Lowen and Douglas Snelling. Meadmore’s furniture and designs were regularly featured in journals such as Australian Home Beautiful and Architecture and Arts, and sold at Marion Hall Best’s showrooms in Sydney and Frances Burke’s New Design store in Melbourne.

In 1955, prior to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Meadmore was commissioned by Ion Nicolades to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse, both in Melbourne. Drawing upon international modernism and a new-found passion for Italian culture, the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar is arguably one of Meadmore’s greatest achievements and became a touchstone for many young creatives in 1950s Melbourne.

In the latter part of the 1950s, Meadmore’s attention increasingly shifted to his sculptural practice and the gallery scene, whilst maintaining his industrial design practice. He would also play a pivotal role in establishing and managing Max Hutchinson’s Gallery A. Known as the Little Bauhaus, the gallery championed non-figurative art and industrial design, with Meadmore responsible for designing the gallery’s line of contract furniture.

The result of 10 years research, Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design presents many pieces for the first time, alongside newly discovered Meadmore designs. The exhibition also presents a rare opportunity to see original furniture and lighting designed by Meadmore for the modernist interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse. The iconic designs in this exhibition – including chairs, tables, light fixtures, and graphics – are enlivened by archival images and documents, alongside interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s. Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design showcases Meadmore’s rich design practice and shines a light on the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne.

Text from the Ian Potter Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 10/02/2019

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Glass top coffee table' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Glass top coffee table
1952
Steel, glass, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Corded armchair' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Corded armchair
1952
Steel, cotton cord, hardwood, rubber
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 2

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Three-legged plywood chair' 1955

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Three-legged plywood chair
1955
Painted steel, plywood, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

On the wall at rear is Erica McGilchrist (1926-2014) Frigidity from the series Moods 1954 and Clement Meadmore’s custom made frame. Pen and ink on paper; steel rod and hardwood (frame) Heide Museum of Modern Art, gift of Erica McGilchrist

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Calyx Lighting

The Calyx lighting range takes design cues from Meadmore’s interest in international modernism, and represents an important shift in his practice. A distinctive feature of the Calyx range is the ingenious sculptural steel base, that enables the lamp to rest in two positions.

Using low-cost materials, readily available from local suppliers, the lamps required no welding and were designed to be easily manufactured and assembled in the workshop. Aluminium shades were hand-painted in a range of matt enamel colours, then baked in a beehive kiln in the backyard of Meadmore’s Burwood Road shop. All components were cut to size by Meadmore for quick assembly: the shade was easily fixed to the metal bracket using two metal pins and tap washers, then with the addition of a length of electrical flex, the finished product was ready or sale. The Calyx range was featured at the Anderson’s Furniture stand (also designed by Meadmore) at the Homes Exhibition in 1954.

Wall text

 

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx desk lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx desk lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium
Private collection

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx pendant lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx pendant lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium, steel
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

The work of Clement Meadmore (1929-2005), one of Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers from the mid-century period, will be on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art from 20 November. This will be the first major survey of the influential industrial design work Meadmore undertook in Australia, before he moved to New York in 1963 and achieved international prominence as a sculptor.

The exhibition focuses on the crossover of art, design and architecture, featuring Meadmore’s iconic designs including chairs, tables and light fixtures. Rare archival images and documents, and interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s will be on display alongside sculptures and structures.

Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition shines a light on Meadmore’s rich design practice and the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne. The display charts the evolution of the artist’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 1960s, cementing the role he played with the Australian design scene of this time.

Curator Dean Keep said, “The exhibition is an important retrospective showing a snapshot of time when mid-century tastemakers sought to turn Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city.”

It was in 1951 that Meadmore designed his first piece of furniture; a steel rod and corded dining chair which would form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as Meadmore Originals. This chair design became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd.

For the next ten years, Meadmore produced a range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture.

In the mid-1950s, Meadmore was commissioned to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar in Melbourne, opening for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Before shifting towards sculpture in the late 1950s, Meadmore’s designs were regularly featured in popular lifestyle magazines and sold in designer department stores in Sydney and Melbourne.

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is on at Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne from 20 November 2018 to 3 March 2019.

This project has been assisted by a State Library Victoria Creative Fellowship.

Press release from the Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

GALLERY 3

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Model for a six-hundered foot skyscraper
1978
Wood, gesso and paint
Collection of Rosalind Meadmore

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Hirst

The three tables presented here pose interesting questions about the business and design arrangements between Clement Meadmore and Michael Hirst, and ambiguous boundaries between authorship and attribution in some of the Hirst manufactured furniture.

The two tiled occasional tables, traditionally attributed to Hirst, were both made by Clement Meadmore and were presented by he designer as gifts to the Dallwitz family in Adelaide. Meadmore considered the tables as prototypes for a new design, sharing with the Dallwitz family his process of making them: first, the glass tiles were laid out to form a pattern, then affixed to adhesive paper and turned upside down. A square structure could then be built around them to hold the wet plaster or cement until it had set hard.

The Dining Table (c. 1959) manufactured by Hirst, was originally owned by the Rippin family, friends of both Hirst and Meadmore. Ailsa Rippin maintained throughout her life that the table was designed by Meadmore, an assertion supported by the aesthetic and structural similarities it shares with a coffee table Meadmore designed for Violet Dulieu and with one of his earliest welded sculptures (c. 1954).

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 3 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 4

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

At left: Clement Meadmore. Door handle (from Thomas’ music store) c. 1959 welded steel Collection of Ken Neale
At right: Clement Meadmore. Untitled c. 1962 welded steel Private collection, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
The Trumpeter
1957
Welded steel, brass
Private collection, Canberra

 

Installation views of Gallery 4 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 5

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Photograph at rear is of the Teahouse interior c. 1958

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Artefacts relating to the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar including building application (1955), menu book and cups and saucers

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Photograph at rear is of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956, 239 Bourke Street, Melbourne Victoria, with Leonard French’s painting The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
(1956, below) on the wall behind the counter. Courtesy of I. A. Nicolades and L. French. Credit: Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis. In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians; and chair for Legend Expresso and Milk Bar c. 1956, steel, brass, Collection of Mr John and Ms Dora Dallwitz

 

 

Café culture: the Legend and the Tea House

A time of great cultural shifts, the 1950s saw Melbourne evolve into a multi-cultural city enriched by the contributions of post-war migrants. The introduction of European café culture at this time had an enduring influence on the character of the city, as did the preparations for the 1956 Olympic Games, which prompted a major program of rebuilding and revitalisation, providing Clement Meadmore with the opportunity to create two of the most imaginative and original interiors in Melbourne.

Ion Nicolades was one of many business owners to remodel their premises in anticipation of the number of visitors soon to descend upon the city. Owner of the Anglo-American Café, a Melbourne institution which had operated on the same site since 1904, Nicolades approached Meadmore with the idea of transforming his business into a contemporary café, renamed the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar. Located in the heart of the city on Bourke Street, the space was divided by an internal wall, with the café to the left, and milk bar to the right – and ideal mix that would capitalise on its proximity to nearby offices and cinemas.

Noted on the plans as the ‘superintending architect’, Meadmore designed every aspect of the Legend, from structural elements through to interior design. From the stools, tables and steel rod chairs, through to the black metal pendant lights. Meadmore crafted an interior that embodied a playful mix of European modernism and contemporary styling. The refurbished Legend quickly became a hub for the young art and design crowd.

Nicolades soon commissioned Meadmore for a second project, the Tea House (also known as the T House). In contrast to the Italophile interiors of the Legend, this project blended British culture and Asian aesthetics with motifs from the botanical world. Meadmore’s subtle inclusion of visual metaphors can be seen in the shape of the chair backs, which reference tea leaves, and in the shape of his lighting: an allusion to the hats worn by plantation workers who picked the tea [see last installation photograph below]. Meadmore’s passion for geometry informed both the design and spatial arrangement of the interior and furnishings, creating a striking display of ordered forms. The rows of simple steel rod tables and chairs, enveloped by curtained walls that draw the eye deep into the room, demonstrate his ability to minimise visual weight and create a sense of light and space.

Wal text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Leonard French (Australian, 1928-2017)
The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
1956
Duco and enamel on board
La Trobe University Art Collection
Donated under the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Ion Nicolades 1999

 

 

Gallery A

Gallery A was an art gallery in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane, established in 1959 by Max Hutchinson and Clement Meadmore, who took the role of gallery director. The inaugural exhibition included work b the Italian abstract expressionist Franco Meneguzzo (Italian, b. 1924), who Meadmore had met in Milan six years earlier, alongside a group of Australia abstract painters, such as Meadmore’s housemate Peter Upward (Australian, 1932-1983). In a climate of conservatism within the Australian art scene, Gallery A was unapologetically progressive, showcasing non-figurative and abstract art alongside design. An exhibition featuring the work of Ludwig Hirschfield-Mack (1893-1965, German 1893-1939, arrived Australia 1940) in 1961 helped earn Gallery A the title of ‘Little Bauhaus’. In keeping with the Bauhaus principle of bridging the gap between art and industry, Gallery A’s activities extended beyond the exhibition of art and design to the production of a range of furniture, designed by Meadmore and manufactured by Hutchison’s company Adroit Manufacturing. Described as ‘contract furniture’, these designs were intended for commercial projects and were advertised in the gallery’s brochures.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 5 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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09
Jun
09

Review: ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 12th July 2009

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green' 1935

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green
1935
Oil and pencil on composition board
Private Collection

 

 

Despite some interesting highlight pieces this is a patchy, thin, incoherent exhibition assembled by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney now showing at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Featuring a hotchpotch of work ranging across fields such as drawing, architecture, photography, painting, film, graphic design, craft, advertising, Australiana and aboriginal works the exhibition attempts to tell the untold story of Modernism in Australia to little effect. Within the exhibition there is no attempt to define exactly what ‘Modernism’ is and therefore an investigation into Modernism in Australia is all the more confusing for the visitor as there seems to be no stable basis on which to build that investigation. Perhaps reading the catalogue would give a greater overview of the development of Modernism in Australia but for the average visitor to the exhibition there seems to be no holistic rationale for the inclusion of elements within the exhibition which, much like Modernism itself, seems eclectically gathered from all walks of life with little regard for narrative structure.

With work spanning five decades from 1917-1967 we are presented with, variously, Robert Klippel’s kitsch Boomerang table from 1955, Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ from 1949, Wolfgang Sievers ‘new objective’ photographs, Berlei’s scientific system for calculating beauty in woman in use till the 1960s, swimsuits from the 1920s-1940s, Featherston chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Expo, a recreation of Australian architect Harry Seidler’s office (the most interesting part of this being the books he had in his office library: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe and Concerning Town Planning by Le Corbusier) and the wind tunnel test model of the Sydney Opera House in wood from 1960. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera …

Highlight pieces include the above mentioned test model of the Sydney Opera House which is stunning in its scale and woodenness, in it’s simplicity of shape and form. Other highlight pieces are the colour music compositions of Roy de Maistre which were the tour de force of the show for me, true revelations in their rhythmic synchronic Moebius-like construction with layered planes of colour swirling in purples, greens and yellows. The large vintage photographic print of Sunbaker (1934) by Max Dupain was also a revelation with it’s earthy brown tones, the blending of the atmospheric out of focus foreground with the clouds behind, the architectural nature of the outline of the body almost like the outline of Uluru, the darkness of the head with the sensuality of the head and shoulders framed against the largeness of the hand resting on the sand. Lastly the two paintings and one rug by French artist Sonia Delaunay are a knockout. It says something about an exhibition when the best work in the show are two paintings by a French artist seemingly plucked at random to show external influences on Australian artists and designers.

While the exhibition does attempt to portray the breadth of the development of Modernism in Australia ultimately it falls well short in this endeavour. The most striking example of this shortcoming is the true star of the exhibition – the building that is Heide II itself. Commissioned by John and Sunday Reed and designed by the Victorian architect David McGlashan of the architectural firm McGlashan and Eversit in 1963 the building epitomises everything that is good about architectural Modernism and it’s form overshadows the exhibition itself. In this building we have beautiful spaces and volumes, an amazing staircase down into the lower area, suspended decking overlooking gardens, the blending of inside and outside areas, large expanses of glass to view the landscape, nooks and studies for privacy and the simplicity and eloquence of form that is Modernist design. With money one can indulge in the best of elitist Modernism. With position, position, position one can side steep the alienation of the city and the spread of surburbia where the dream of Australians owning a home of their own still continues in the vast, tasteless expanses of McMansion estates.

Robert Nelson in his review of this exhibition sees the car as creating the suburbs and Modernism as the emptying of the city after 6pm, the lessening of community and the devaluing of space he insists that there is little difference between a Californian bungalow in the suburbs and a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler because they were equally shackled to motor transport.1 This is to miss the point.

Although Modernism in its basic form influenced most walks of life in Australia from swimsuit design to milk bars, from cinema to naturism, from bodies to advertising the most effective expressions of Modernism are architectural (as evidenced by Heide II) and were only open to those with money, power and position. Although Le Corbusier’s concept of public housing was a space ‘for the people’ the most interesting of his houses were the private commissions for wealthy clients. And so it proves here. One can imagine the parties on the deck at Heide II in the 1960s with men in their tuxedo and bow ties and woman in their gowns, or the relaxation of the Reed’s sitting in front of their fire in the submerged lounge. For the ordinary working class person Modernism brought a sense of alienation from the aspirational things one cannot buy in the world, an alienation that continues to this day; for the privileged few Modernism offered the exclusivity of elitism (or is it the elitism of exclusivity!) and an aspirational alienation of a different kind – that of the separation from the masses.

Go to Heide for the glorious gardens, the wonders of Heide II but don’t go to this exhibition expecting grand insights into the basis of Australian Modernism for that story, as Robert Nelson rightly notes, remains as yet untold.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

An excellent review of the exhibition by Jill Julius Matthews, “Modern times: The untold story of modernism in Australia,” (reCollections Volume 4 number 1) can be found on the Journal of the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

  1. “Emanating from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Modern Times “explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967.” But something is missing. The overwhelming modern development in these 50 years was the proliferation of automotive transport, which redefined the layout and function of Australian cities.

    The cars created the suburbs; and as the individual bungalow drew out the vast dormitories of Sydney and Melbourne, the city centre was spiritually drained, dedicated to bureaucratic and commercial premises.

    The story at Heide emphasises the gradual triumph of the tall buildings of the CBD. It doesn’t really reflect how these abstract monuments didn’t contain a soul after 6pm.Although the project makes such a big deal of being interdisciplinary, the social history doesn’t have a robust geographical basis. And because of this, the exhibition and book fail to handle the new alienation that modernism brings: the evacuation of the city and the insularity of suburban people in bungalows with little street life and roads increasingly deemed unsafe for children.

    What does it really matter if a house looks like a Californian bungalow or a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler? In social terms, they’re structurally the same, equally retracting from a sense of community and equally shackled to motor transport. In this sense, the styles are immaterial, except that one of them gives you a feeling of intimacy while the other has a bit more light and is easily wiped with a sponge.

    At the end of the chosen period, the folly of the dominant suburban pattern came to be understood in its dire ecological consequences. Alas, it was too late. The modernist devaluation of space had already occurred, and our whole society had been reorganised around petrol.”

    Robert Nelson. The Age. Wednesday 6th May, 2009

 

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Arrested Movement from a Trio' 1934

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Arrested Movement from a Trio
1934
Oil and pencil on composition board
72.3 × 98.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor' 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor
1919
Oil on paperboard
85.3 x 115.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

 

In late 1918, Roy de Maistre collaborated with fellow artist Roland Wakelin in exploring the relationship between art and music. Their experiments produced Australia’s first abstract paintings, characterised by high-key colour, large areas of flat paint and simplified forms. The works received critical acclaim, but modernist developments were largely derided by the conservative establishment.

This painting exemplifies de Maistre’s theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. It is also aligned with de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning through abstraction, akin to other artists such as Kandinsky who were interested in the ideas of the theosophy and anthroposophy movements, spiritualism and the occult.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour chart' c. 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour chart
c. 1919
30.5 x 40.5 cm
Oil on cardboard
Gift of the executors of the artist’s estate 1968
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rhythm' 1938

 

Sonia Delaunay (Ukraine, b. 1885 moved Paris 1905-1979)
Rhythm
1938
Oil on canvas

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007) '"House of Tomorrow" exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne' 1949

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007)
“House of Tomorrow” exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne
1949
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994) 'Nymphex' 1966

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994)
Nymphex
1966
Gelatin silver photograph from electronic image
50.6 x 60.8 cm image/sheet
Gift of Dr George Berger 1978
Art Gallery of New South Wales
@ Estate of Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937) 'Decorative portrait - Len Lye' 1925

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937)
Decorative portrait – Len Lye
1925
Marble
30.5 x 22.5 x 16.5 cm
Purchased 1938
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1934 printed 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
1934 printed 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984) 'Rushing' c. 1922

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984)
Rushing
c. 1922
Oil on canvas on paperboard
65.6 x 91.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

Cossington Smith captures the drama of a crowd in Rushing, which depicts commuters clamouring down to the ferries of Circular Quay to get home after work. The flying scarf and fallen hat emphasise the speed at which the travellers are moving and the peril and claustrophobia of a, mostly faceless, city crowd. The steep gangplank and diagonal composition accentuates the dynamism of the painting.

A brilliant colourist, Cossington Smith’s work of the early 1920s adopts a darker palette than the vivid colours she is usually associated with. Inspired by a visit to Sydney in 1920 by the tonalist painter and teacher Max Meldrum, her paintings became studies in tone, rather than colour, a practice she had abandoned by 1925.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Robert Klippel 'Boomerang' coffee table 1955

 

Robert Klippel (Australian, 1920-2001)
Boomerang coffee table
1955

 

 

“The Powerhouse Museum travelling exhibition Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967, a period of great social, economic, political and technological change. From the ideals of abstraction and functionalism to the romance of high-rise cities, new leisure activities and the healthy body, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the twentieth century. This exhibition is the first interdisciplinary survey of the impact of modernism in Australia, spanning art, design, architecture, advertising, photography, film and fashion.

Modern times is presented at Heide across all four of the Museum’s gallery spaces. It unfolds in thematic sections highlighting key stories about international exchange, the modern body, modernist ‘primitivism’, the city, modern pools, and the Space Age. Comprising over 300 objects and artworks, it showcases works by major artists including Sidney Nolan, Margaret Preston, Albert Tucker, Grace Cossington Smith, Max Dupain, Wolfgang Sievers, and Clement Meadmore, key architects Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler, and designers Fred Ward and Grant and Mary Featherston. An installation, Cannibal Tours, by Madrid-based Australian artist Narelle Jubelin is a contemporary adjunct to the exhibition.

Inspired by the futurist visions of various European avant-gardes, modernist ideas were often controversial and shaped by many competing positions. Modern times reveals how these ideas were circulated and took hold in Australia, via émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions, films and publications. Australian contact with significant international modernist sources, such as the Bauhaus school in Germany, occurred through figures such as influential artist and teacher Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, who taught Bauhaus principles at Geelong Grammar, and renowned architect Harry Seidler, who played a central role in shaping the modern city in Australia. Hirschfeld-Mack’s extraordinary film Colour Light Play of 1923 is shown for the first time in Australia, and Seidler’s 1948 studio, designed on his arrival from New York, has been re-created for the exhibition.

While modernism was international in character, an ‘Australian modernism’ was first championed in the 1920s by artist Margaret Preston, whose promotion of Aboriginal forms and motifs was important to the understanding of their artistic value. Preston’s designs, Len Lye’s stunning animation Tusalava (1929), Robert Klippel’s boomerang table (c. 1955) and other works show the development of a vernacular modernism.

Other highlights of Modern times include works from the visionary experiment in colour theory by Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin in 1919, a model of Robin Boyd’s innovative House of Tomorrow (1949), the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo, and a large wooden model for Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.”

Text from the Heide Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 06/06/2009 no longer available online

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman's 'Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women' which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellerman's trademark.

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman’s Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellermans trademark
Gift of Dennis Wolanski Library, Sydney Opera House, 2000
Photo: Powerhouse Museum

 

'On hot summer days cool off with Tooth's KB Lager', advertising poster (about 1940).

 

On hot summer days cool off with Tooth’s KB Lager
About 1940
Advertising poster
Colour and process lithograph, artist name “Parker” in image lower right
100.4 x 75.4cm
Sydney Living Museums

 

Grant and Mary Featherston. 'Expo mark II sound chair' 1967

 

Grant Featherston (Australian, 1922-1995) and Mary Featherston (Australian, b. London 1943, migrated to Australia 1952)
Expo mark II sound chair
1967
Aristoc Industries
Polystyrene, polyurethane foam, Dunlopillo foam rubber, Pirelli webbing, fibreglass, hardwood, sound equipment, upholstery fabric
Powerhouse Collection

 

 

The Expo Mark II sound chair, adapted for the Australian domestic market after Expo 67 in Montreal.

A cloth-covered high back winged chair with a circular base. The chair has a circular orange cloth covered cushion in the base and an integral full-width headrest. Two 125mm diameter inserts are pressed into the top of the back of the chair where speakers are fitted inside it. There is a cylindrical knob on the side of the chair.

 

James Birrell. 'A modernist vision of Australia - The interior of the Australian Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal' 1967

 

National Archives of Australia
A modernist vision of Australia: Grant and Mary Featherston’s wing sound chairs were a feature of the Australian Pavilion, designed by architect James Maccormick with exhibits selected by Robin Boyd, at Expo 67 in Montreal, 1967
1967

 

 

In 1967 Australia participated in the International and Universal Exposition held in Montreal, Canada. Australia’s Expo ’67 theme was the ‘Spirit of Adventure’. In the 30,000 square feet glass-walled Australian Pavilion, developed by the Australian Government and designed by Robin Boyd, exhibits explored Australian science, arts, people and development. The pavilion was designed as a ‘haven’ of ‘space and tranquillity’ floating above an Australian bushland setting. Inside, 240 innovative sound chairs offered ‘foot-weary Expo visitors’ the chance to hear the voices of famous Australians describing the exhibits, in French as well as English. The Great Barrier Reef was re-created in a lagoon beneath the pavilion while wallabies and kangaroos could be viewed in a sunken enclosure.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

James Birrell. 'View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane' Nd

 

James Birrell (Australian, b. 1928)
View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane
Nd
Powerhouse Museum

 

 

“A major exhibition opening for Sydney Design 08 in August, Modern times looks closely at the transformation of modern city life. The advent of cars, freeways, skyscrapers and new entertainment such as cinemas, milk bars, swimming pools, cafes and pubs are all legacies of modernism as revealed through the exhibition. The exhibition spans five decades from 1917 to 1967 – a tumultuous period marked by global wars, economic depression, a technological revolution and major social changes – out of which a modern cosmopolitan culture was shaped.

“The modernist movement was inspired by various European avant-gardes that projected visions of a better future, shaped by many competing positions. It was through émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions and publications that modernism become known in Australia,” Ann Stephen said. Encompassing art, design and architecture, Modern times focuses on seven themes: 1. the human body, image and health; 2. international influences and exchanges; 3. Indigenous art and modernism; 4. Interdisciplinary projects with retailers; 5. city landscapes and urban life; 6. public pools and milk bars; and 7. the space age.

Several great modern public pools were designed in Australia initially as part of an international swimming boom in the 1930s and boosted by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. These will be shown on a large, immersive, panoramic audio visual screen celebrating the most Australian of past-times, being poolside. The earliest 1920s swimming costumes by silent film star Annette Kellerman, several decades of Australian icon ‘Speedo’ cossies and an early bikini will also be on display.

The much-loved corner milk bar from the 1930s will also be recreated in the exhibition for visitors to enter, complete with lolly jars, milkshakes and a juke box.

Other story highlights in the exhibition include Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ that featured at the 1949 Modern Home Exhibition in Melbourne; and Boyd’s memorable Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo that showcased Australian design including the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs and hostess uniforms designed by Zara Holt, wife of then prime minister Harold Holt.

Modernism also inspired new forms of public art and design like the abstract fountains by Tom Bass on Sydney’s former P&O building and Robert Woodward’s El Alamein Memorial Fountain, a popular tourist site in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Modernism shaped an exultant explosion of experiment as part of the Space Age informing such spectacular architectural feats as Roy Grounds’ dome for the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra and Jørn Utzon’s internationally-acclaimed Sydney Opera House, both featured in the exhibition.”

Text by Ruzan Haruriunyan, “Modern Times: Untold Story Of Modernism In Australia,” on the Huliq News website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

Heide II

Heide II

 

Hedie II photographs by Rory Hyde. More photos of Heide are on his Flickr photoset

 

 

Heide II – commissioned by John and Sunday Reed 1963, designed 1964, constructed 1964-67

Designed by Melbourne architect David McGlashan of McGlashan Everist, it was intended as “a gallery to be lived in” and served as the Reeds’ residence between 1967 and 1980. The building is considered one of the best examples of modernist architecture in Victoria and awarded the Royal Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) Bronze Medal – the highest award for residential architecture in the State – in 1968. It is currently used to display works from the Heide Collection and on occasion projects by contemporary artists.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Australia Square Tower' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Australia Square: a keyhole to the future [Australia Square Tower]
1968
Gelatin silver print
49.9 × 39.2 cm
Courtesy of Max Dupain and Associates

 

Jeff Carter. 'At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma' c.1957-59

 

Jeff Carter (Australian, 1928-2010)
At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma
c. 1957-59
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara, Powerhouse Publishing, 2008 (paperback).

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road,
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
Public holidays
10am – 5pm

Heide Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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