Posts Tagged ‘Wolfgang Sievers


Exhibition: ‘The Sievers Project’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 31st August 2014

Artists: Jane Brown, Cameron Clarke, Zoë Croggon, Therese Keogh, Phuong Ngo, Meredith Turnbull, Wolfgang Sievers

Curators: Naomi Cass and Kyla McFarlane



Jane Brown. 'Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield' 2014


Jane Brown (Australian, b. 1967)
Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield
3 panels of 9, 6 and 6 selenium toned, fibre-based, gelatin silver prints



Curated by CCP Director Naomi Cass and Kyla McFarlane, this intelligent exhibition features the work of six early career artists who respond in diverse ways to renowned Australian photographer Wolfgang Sievers (1913-2007). It was a joy to see again the large vintage silver gelatin, almost clinically composed photographs by Sievers. The light, tonality and stillness of the images make them seem mythic, modern and monumental.

Each artist offers a unique “take” on Sievers influence on Australian photography and design, including his interest in refugees and human rights issues and the representation of the dignity of labour (although the machine is more often represented in Sievers work with a distinct lack of human presence and the act of work itself).

My personal favourites were Phuong Ngo’s intimate silver gelatin photographs in four groups of sweat shop workers in Vietnam, people on boats coming to Australia, photographs of textile workers in Australia and photographs of his mother. Phuong Ngo’s shared stories of young Vietnamese refugees and the journeys taken by their mothers told through photographs is very moving, but only after you are told what the four bodies of images are about. Positioned in the small Gallery Four it was also difficult to associate this installation with the rest of the exhibition. Initially I thought it was a separate exhibition until the linkages were told, the light dawned, and the connections were made.

While Cameron Clarke’s photographs of Ford factory workers and machinery are meticulously lit and digitally observed, producing a strong body of work, it is Jane Brown’s gridded analogue triptych which steals the show (see photographs above and below). These are superbly rich and textured photographs, beautifully seen and resolved within the shifting mise-en-scène. Brown’s images kinetically flow from one image to another even as they are self contained within a modernist grid. In some instances the artist has used the same photograph within the triptych but cropped in a different manner, which pushes and pulls the viewer into a different perspective on the subject matter. This is highly intelligent art making that observes the self contained nature and monumentality of Sievers work and reworks it, lucidly commenting on the dis/integration of these spaces and industries in the present day.

This series of work is the best sequence of photographs I have seen this year and any institution worthy of their salt should snap up these works for their collection.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Director Naomi Cass and the CCP for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan 2014



Installation photographs of Jane Brown 'Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield' 2014 (details) at the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of Jane Brown 'Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield' 2014 (details) at the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of Jane Brown 'Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield' 2014 (details) at the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of Jane Brown 'Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield' 2014 (details) at the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photographs of Jane Brown Triptych. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield 2014 (details) at the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Jane Brown. 'Staircase. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield, 2014' 2014


Jane Brown (Australian, b. 1967)
Staircase. The Paper Mill (former Amcor and APM site), Fairfield, 2014
Fibre-based, gelatin silver print


Jane Brown. 'Mining machinery, Line of Lode Miners Memorial Complex, Broken Hill 2014-06-10' 2014


Jane Brown (Australian, b. 1967)
Mining machinery, Line of Lode Miners Memorial Complex, Broken Hill 2014-06-10
Brown toned, fibre-based, gelatin silver print
Courtesy the artist




Installation photograph of Jane Brown’s work at the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Wolfgang Sievers. 'Gears for the Mining Industry, Vickers Ruwolt, Burnley, Victoria, 1967' 1967


Wolfgang Sievers (Australian, born Germany 1913-2007)
Gears for the Mining Industry, Vickers Ruwolt, Burnley, Victoria, 1967
Gelatin silver photograph
49.6 x 39.3cm
National Library of Australia, Wolfgang Sievers Photographic Archive


Wolfgang Sievers. 'Sulphuric Acid Plant Electrolytic Zinc, Risoon, Tasmania, 1959' 1959


Wolfgang Sievers (Australian, born Germany 1913-2007)
Sulphuric Acid Plant Electrolytic Zinc, Risoon, Tasmania, 1959
Gelatin silver photograph


nstallation photograph of the work of Meredith Turnbull (foreground) and Zoë Croggon (rear wall) at the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photograph of the work of Meredith Turnbull (foreground) and Zoë Croggon (rear wall) at the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Zoë Croggon. 'John Holland Constructions, Ginninderra Bridge (after Wolfgang Sievers)' 2014


Zoë Croggon (Australian, b. 1989)
John Holland Constructions, Ginninderra Bridge (after Wolfgang Sievers)
70 cm x 86cm
Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne


Zoë Croggon. 'Comalco Aluminium Used in the Construction of the National Gallery of Victoria [7] (after Wolfgang Sievers)' 2014


Zoë Croggon (Australian, b. 1989)
Comalco Aluminium Used in the Construction of the National Gallery of Victoria [7] (after Wolfgang Sievers)
Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne


Zoë Croggon. 'Comalco Aluminium Used in the Construction of the National Gallery of Victoria [18] (after Wolfgang Sievers)' 2014


Zoë Croggon (Australian, b. 1989)
Comalco Aluminium Used in the Construction of the National Gallery of Victoria [18] (after Wolfgang Sievers)
Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne


Zoë Croggon. 'Westgate Bridge (after Wolfgang Sievers)' 2014


Zoë Croggon (Australian, b. 1989)
Westgate Bridge (after Wolfgang Sievers)
Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne



“Six early career artists, working in photography through to installation, have responded in diverse ways to renowned Australian photographer Wolfgang Sievers (1913-2007), icon of 20th century Australian photography. Sievers’ commercial practice exemplifies mid-century positivism and modernity, and the myth-making role of photography. As a German Jewish immigrant, he had a strong interest in refugees and human rights issues as well as an expressed commitment to representing the dignity of labour. The Sievers Project presents key historical works as a context for engaging the past through the present.

Photographers Jane Brown and Cameron Clarke have followed in his footsteps to industrial clients Sievers photographed and valorised, finding sites that are visually dynamic within industries now in decline. Through her intrepid, research-based practice, Therese Keogh has developed a materially-rich work from the starting point of a single, anomalous photograph Sievers took at the Roman Forum in 1953. Meredith Turnbull draws on his connections with Melbourne’s design community in the 1950s and 60s, including Gerard Herbst and Frederick Romberg. In Sievers’ photographs of industrial sewing machines and their machinists, Phuong Ngo finds shared stories of young Vietnamese refugees and the journeys taken by their mothers. Zoë Croggon positions fragments of Sievers’ iconic architectural photographs against found photographs of the human body in movement.”

Text from the CCP website


Foreword to the catalogue

The Sievers Project follows a number of exhibitions over the last five years where CCP has opened up a vista on contemporary practice by exhibiting early work by living artists such as Bill Henson, Kohei Yoshiyuki and Robert Rooney, as well as historical photography, alongside contemporary work. As a commissioning exhibition we have titled this a ‘project’ to point towards the year-long research period integral to the exhibition, capturing the curatorial gesture of inviting early career artists to engage with the past.

The Sievers Project represents a significant curatorial endeavour for CCP, the tale of which is recounted in the Introduction. It would simply not have taken place were it not for the willingness and generosity of Julian Burnside AO QC to participate, through allowing the artists research access to his Wolfgang Sievers collection and lending work from it for the exhibition, as well as contributing an essay for this catalogue.

I acknowledge the artists for setting out on this project and for returning with thoughtful and excellent work. It has been a pleasure to both engage with and exhibit the work of Jane Brown, Cameron Clarke, Zoë Croggon, Therese Keogh, Phuong Ngo and Meredith Turnbull.

The Sievers Project has been dignified by contributions by a number of experts and I wish to acknowledge Professor Helen Ennis, Australian National University School of Art who has also contributed a catalogue essay; Madeleine Say, Picture Librarian, Eve Sainsbury, Exhibitions Curator and Clare Williamson, Senior Exhibitions Curator, State Library of Victoria; Maggie Finch, Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria and Professor Harriet Edquist and Kaye Ashton, Senior Coordinator, RMIT Design Archives, who all took time to speak about Sievers and share his work with the artists.

Opportunities to commission artists are relatively rare and funding through the inaugural Early Career Artist Commissions Grant from the Australia Council has enabled the project. CCP is pleased to acknowledge this recognition and support. We are delighted that Lovell Chen Architects & Heritage Consultants have provided further critical support to realise the project, for which we are grateful. We see a germane link between Lovell Chen and the premise of The Sievers Project.

The Besen Family Foundation are champions for enabling CCP to produce catalogues for selected exhibitions. I acknowledge the Foundation for their long-standing and generous engagement with CCP. We thank the National Library of Australia for providing permission to reproduce Sievers’ work in this catalogue.

The Sievers Project has provided a welcome opportunity for CCP to engage with colleagues in the fi eld of architecture and we are delighted to acknowledge a partnership with the Robin Boyd Foundation to present public programs. We are grateful to Tony Lee from the Foundation for his interest in the project.

Without doubt CCP’s ability to both present contemporary art well and look after artists is greatly enhanced through the longstanding and generous support of Tint Design and Sofi tel Melbourne on Collins. CCP is pleased to present a parallel exhibition of The Sievers Project at the 2014 Melbourne Art Fair and we thank the Melbourne Art Foundation for enabling CCP to bring the exhibition to broad new audiences. For the Art Fair exhibition we are also indebted to Christine Downer, previous CCP Board member and current supporter, for the loan of a major Sievers work.

The Sievers Project has been ably assisted by Philippa Brumby, curatorial intern. Co-curator Dr Kyla McFarlane and I thank Philippa for her wide-ranging skills over a substantial period of time. Lastly, I acknowledge Kyla for her excellent curatorial work and for the pleasure of collaborating with such a playful, dedicated and steely intellect.

Naomi Cass, Director, CCP


And what about his Legacy?

A response to this necessarily combines elements of certitude and speculation. Sievers himself was totally committed to ensuring his legacy as a photographer. He spent years meticulously cataloguing and documenting his work and was assiduous in placing as much of it as he could in major photography collections around the country – art galleries and libraries. The bulk of his archive, a staggering 65,000 negatives and prints, was acquired by the National Library where it has been digitised and is available online to users in perpetuity. But there is another aspect to his preoccupation with legacy that has troubled me over the years – his desire to control the readings of his work, to ensure that he ‘owned’ the contextualisation and interpretation of it. As I see it, some of the framing narratives he constructed were retrospective and are misleading because they are not borne out by the evidence, that is, by the photographs themselves. This is especially apparent in his insistence that the relationship between ‘man and machine’ was central to his industrial photography. In my assessment of his enormous archive, images that extol this interaction are actually relatively few in number. They are outweighed by thousands and thousands of other industrial scenes in which the worker is locked into the dreary, repetitive tasks associated with mass production, or is not present at all having been displaced by machines that are far more efficient than humans will ever be. In other words, the bulk of Sievers’ own photographs contradict his central tenet of the dignity of labour in the modern machine era. The most important aspect of his legacy is undoubtedly his photographs and the astonishingly vast, high quality body of architectural and industrial work he produced between 1938 and the early 1970s. My view is that his black and white photography is the best although he did not agree with me, arguing that his colour photography, with its expressive and dramatic qualities, was equally fine. For me, it is his black and white images that are visionary, their precision, clarity and drama embodying the belief in progress that underpinned modernity. I would also suggest Sievers’ legacy isn’t confined to his photography. As a man he cared deeply about the world and wanted it to be better. He was closely involved in the restoration of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s buildings in Berlin in the 1990s and in the re-evaluation of his own father’s reputation (Professor Johannes Sievers was an expert on Schinkel and had used his young son’s photographs in his books on the architect in the 1930s). Wolfgang donated his photographs to fund-raising campaigns for human rights and remained a passionate antiwar activist until his death.


What would he have thought about this project?

I suspect that he would have been thrilled to know that his contribution to Australian life and photography is the touchstone for the six photographers involved in the project and that his work continues to be appreciated.

Professor Helen Ennis is Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at ANU School of Art, Canberra.


Installation photographs of the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photographs of the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


nstallation photograph of the work of Therese Keogh (detail) in the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photograph of the work of Therese Keogh (detail) in the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photograph of the work of Meredith Turnbull (detail) in the exhibition 'The Sievers Project' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Installation photograph of the work of Meredith Turnbull (detail) in the exhibition The Sievers Project at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)


Therese Keogh. 'In the Forum Romanum (after Sievers)' 2013


Therese Keogh
In the Forum Romanum (after Sievers)
Graphite on paper
Courtesy the artist


Cameron Clarke. 'Loui Nedeski, Ford Motor Company, Geelong' 2014


Cameron Clarke
Loui Nedeski, Ford Motor Company, Geelong
Archival inkjet print
50 x 63 cm
Courtesy the artist


Cameron Clarke. 'Küsters Washer, Bruck Textiles, Wangaratta' 2014


Cameron Clarke
Küsters Washer, Bruck Textiles, Wangaratta (detail)
Archival inkjet print


Cameron Clarke. 'Theis Dye Jets, Bruck Textiles, Wangaratta' 2014


Cameron Clarke
Theis Dye Jets, Bruck Textiles, Wangaratta (detail)
Archival inkjet print


Phuong Ngo. 'Untitled' 2014


Phuong Ngo (Australian, b. 1983)
from the Mother Vietnam series
Inkjet print
Courtesy the artist



Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website


Back to top


Review: ‘The mad square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37’ at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th November 2011 – 4th March 2012


Irene Bayer. 'No title (Man on stage)' c. 1927


Irene Bayer (American, 1898-1991)
No title (Man on stage)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 10.6 h x 7.6 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

There is a small 2″ x 3″ contact print portrait of Hanna Höch by Richard Kauffmann, Penetrate yourself or: I embrace myself (1922) that is an absolute knockout. Höch is portrayed as the ‘new women’ with short bobbed hair and loose modern dress, her self-image emphasised through a double exposure that fragments her face and multiplies her hands, set against a contextless background. The ‘new women’ fragmented and broken apart (still unsure of herself?). The photograph is so small and intense it takes your breath away. Similarly, there is the small, intimate photograph No title (Man on Stage) (c. 1927) by Irene Bayer (see above) that captures performance as ‘total art’, a combination of visual arts, dance, music, architecture and costume design. In contrast is a large 16 x 20″ photograph of the Bauhaus balconies (1926) by László Moholy-Nagy (see below) where the whites are so creamy, the perspective so magnificent.

No title (Metalltanz) (c. 1928-29) by T. Lux Feinenger, a photographer that I do not know well, is an exceptional photograph and print. Again small, this time dark and intense, the image features man as dancer performing gymnastics in front of reflective, metal sculptures. The metal becomes an active participant in the Metalltanz or ‘Dance in metal’ because of its reflective qualities. The print, from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is luminous. In fact all the prints from the Getty in this exhibition are of the most outstanding quality, a highlight of the exhibition for me. Another print from the Getty that features metal and performance is Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet) by T Grill c. 1926 – 27 (see below) where the spiral costume becomes an extension of the body, highlighting its form. Also highlighting form, objectivity and detachment is a wonderful 3 x 5″ photograph of the New Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1926) by Lucia Moholy from the Getty collection, the first I have ever seen in the flesh by this artist. Outstanding.

Following, we have 4 photograms by Lucia’s husband, László Moholy-Nagy which display formalist experimentation “inspired by machine aesthetic, exploring a utopian belief that Constructivism and abstract art could play a role in the process of social reform.” Complimenting these photograms is a row of six, yes six! Moholy-Nagy including Dolls (Puppen) 1926-7 (Getty), The law of the series 1925 (Getty), Lucia at the breakfast table 1926 (Getty), Spring, Berlin 1928 (George Eastman House), Berlin Radio Tower 1928 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Light space modulator 1930 (Getty). All six photographs explore the fascinating relationship between avant-garde art and photography, between they eye and perspective, all the while declaiming what Moholy-Nagy called the “new vision”; angles, shadows and geometric patterns that defy traditional perspective “removing the space from associations with the real world creating a surreal, disjointed image.” This topographic mapping flattens perspective in the case of the Berlin radio tower allowing the viewer to see the world in a new way.

Finally two groups of photographs that are simply magnificent.

First 8 photographs in a row that focus on the order and progressive nature of the modern world, the inherent beauty of technology captured in formalist studies of geometric forms. The prints range from soft pictorialist renditions to sharp clarity. The quality of the prints is amazing. Artists include the wonderful E. O. Hoppé, Albert Renger-Patzsch (an outstandingly beautiful photograph, Harbour with cranes 1927 that is my favourite photograph in the exhibition, see below), Two Towers 1937-38 by Werner Mantz and some early Wolfgang Sievers before he left Germany for Australia in 1938 (Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany 1933, see below). These early Sievers are particularly interesting, especially when we think of his later works produced in Australia. Lucky were many artists who survived in Germany or fled from Nazi persecution at the last moment, including John Heartfield who relocated to Czechoslovakia in 1933 and then fled to London in 1938 and August Sander whose life and work were severely curtailed under the Nazi regime and whose son died in prison in 1944 near the end of his ten year sentence (Wikipedia).

August Sander. Now there is a name to conjure with. The second magnificent group are 7 photographs that are taken from Sander’s seminal work People of the 20th Century. All the photographs have soft, muted tones of greys with no strong highlights and, usually, contextless backgrounds. The emphasis is on archetypes, views of people who exist on the margins of society – circus performers, bohemians, artists, the unemployed and blind people. In all the photographs there is a certain frontality (not necessarily physical) to the portraits, a self consciousness in the sitter, a wariness of the camera and of life. This self consciousness can be seen in the two photographs that are the strongest in the group – Secretary at West German radio in Cologne, 1931 and Match seller 1927 (see below).

There is magic here. Her face wears a somewhat quizzical air – questioning, unsure, vulnerable – despite the trappings of affluence and fashionability (the smoking of the cigarette, the bobbed hair). He is wary of the camera, his face and hands isolated by Sander while the rest of his body falls into shadow. His right hand is curled under, almost deformed, his shadow falling on the stone at right, the only true brightness in this beautiful image the four boxes of matches he clutches in his left hand: as Sander titles him ironically, The Businessman.

Working as I do these days with lots of found images from the 1940s – 60s that I digitally restore to life, I wonder what happened to these people during the dark days of World War 2. Did they survive the cataclysm, the drop into the abyss? I want to know, I want to reach out to these people to send them good energy. I hope that they did but their wariness in front of the camera, so intimately ‘taken’ by Sander, makes me feel the portent of things to come. How differently we see images armed with the hindsight of history!

In conclusion, this is a fantastic exhibition that will undoubtedly be in my top ten of the year for Melbourne in 2011.

Many thankx to Michael Thorneycroft for his help and The National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the accredited photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower)' 1928/29


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Berlin Radio Tower
Gelatin silver print
36 × 25.5cm
Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn



Over the winter and spring of 1927–28, Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy took a series of perhaps nine views looking down from the Berlin Radio Tower, one of the most exciting new constructions in the German capital. Moholy had already photographed the Eiffel Tower in Paris from below, looking up through the tower’s soaring girders. In Berlin, however, Moholy turned his camera around and pointed it straight down at the ground. This plunging perspective showed off the spectacular narrowness of the Radio Tower, finished in 1926, which rose vertiginously to a height of 450 feet from a base seven times smaller than that of its Parisian predecessor (which opened in 1889). Moholy attached exceptional importance to this, his boldest image: he hung it just above his name in a room devoted to his work at the Berlin showing of Film und Foto, a mammoth traveling exhibition that he had helped to prepare. Moholy also chose this view and one other to offer Julien Levy, the pioneering art dealer, when Levy visited him in Berlin in 1930. The following year the pictures went on view at the Levy Gallery in New York, in Moholy’s first solo exhibition of photographs.

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Prop)' 1930


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Das Lichtrequisit (The light prop)
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.1 cm (9 7/16 × 7 1/8 in.)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2014 Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



The Light-Space Modulator is the most spectacular and complete realization of László Moholy-Nagy’s artistic philosophy. Machine parts and mechanical structures began to appear in his paintings after his emigration from Hungary, and they are also seen in the illustrations he selected for the 1922 Buch neuer Künstler (Book of new artists), which includes pictures of motorcars and bridges as well as painting and sculpture. Many contemporary artists incorporated references to machines and technology in their work, and some, like the Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, even designed plans for fantastic structures, such as the ambitious Monument to the Third International, a proposed architectural spiral of glass and steel with moving tiers and audiovisual broadcasts. (See Tatlin’s Tower.)

In the Light-Space Modulator, Moholy-Nagy was able to create an actual working mechanism. Although he censured capitalism’s inhumane use of technology, he believed it could be harnessed to benefit mankind and that the artist had an important role in accomplishing this. Moholy had made preliminary sketches for kinetic sculptures as early as 1922 and referred to the idea for a light machine in his writings, but it was not until production was financed by an electric company in Berlin in 1930 that this device was built, with the assistance of an engineer and a metalsmith. It was featured at the Werkbund exhibition in Paris the same year, along with the short film Light Display Black-White-Gray, made by Moholy-Nagy to demonstrate and celebrate his new machine.

The Light-Space Modulator is a Moholy-Nagy painting come to life: mobile perforated disks, a rotating glass spiral, and a sliding ball create the effect of photograms in motion. With its gleaming glass and metal surfaces, this piece (now in the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University) is not only a machine for creating light displays but also a sculptural object of beauty, photographed admiringly by its creator.

Katherine Ware, László Moholy-Nagy, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 80 © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Harbour with crane' c. 1927


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Harbour with crane
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Wolfgang Sievers. 'Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany' 1933


Wolfgang Sievers (Germany 1913 – Australia 2007)
Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany
gelatin silver photograph
27.5 h x 23.0 w cm
Purchased 1988
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



The Ruhr region was at the centre of the German acceleration of industry in pre-war Germany, with rapid economic growth creating a heavy demand for coal and steel. In keeping with Modernist trends in photography, Sievers shot this blast furnace – the mechanism that transforms ore into metal – from an unusual, dynamic angle. It dominates the frame, appearing menacing and strange. Despite being imprisoned and beaten by the Gestapo, Sievers studied and taught at a progressive private art school until graduation in 1938. In that year he escaped Germany after being called up for military service, ending up in Australia.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


August Sander. 'Match seller' 1927


August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Match seller
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, IV Classes and Professions, 17 The Businessman


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938) Still from the 'Cabinet of Dr Caligari' 1919


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938)
Still from from the Cabinet of Dr Caligari
5 min excerpt, 35mm transferred to DVD, Black and White, silent, German subtitles
Courtesy Transit Film GmbH
Production still courtesy of the British Film Institute and Transit Film GmbH


Felix H Man. 'Luna Park' 1929


Felix H Man (German 1893-1985)
Luna Park
Gelatin silver photograph
18.1 x 24cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1987
© Felix H Man Estate


Hannah Höch. 'Love' 1931


Hannah Höch (German 1889-1978)
From the series Love
21.8 x 21.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1983



Hannah Höch made some of the most interesting Dada collages and photomontages, including Love, an image of two strange composite female. Höch’s technique of pasting images together from magazine clippings and advertisements was a response to the modern era of mass media, and a way of criticising the bourgeois taste for ‘high art’. In many of her works, Höch explores the identity and changing roles of women in modern society.



The Mad Square takes its name from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting which depicts Berlin’s famous Pariser Platz as a mad and fantastic place. The ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period. The ‘square’ can also be a modernist construct that saw artists moving away from figurative representations towards increasingly abstract forms.

The exhibition features works by Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Kurt Schwitters and August Sander. This group represents Germany’s leading generation of interwar artists. Major works by lesser known artists including Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter and Hannah Höch are also presented in the exhibition in addition to works by international artists who contributed to German modernism.

The Mad Square brings together a diverse and extensive range of art, created during one of the most important and turbulent periods in European history, offering new insights into the understanding of key German avant‐garde movements including – Expressionism, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism, and New Objectivity were linked by radical experimentation and innovation, made possible by an unprecedented freedom of expression.


World War 1 and the Revolution

The outbreak of war in 1914 was met with enthusiasm by many German artists and intellectuals who volunteered for service optimistically hoping that it would bring cultural renewal and rapid victory for Germany. The works in this section are by the generation of artists who experienced war first hand. Depictions of fear, anxiety and violence show the devastating effects of war – the disturbing subjects provide insight into tough economic conditions and social dysfunction experienced by many during the tumultuous early years of the Weimar Republic following the abdication of the Kaiser



The philosophical and political despair experienced by poets and artists during World War 1 fuelled the Dada movement, a protest against the bourgeois conception of art. Violent, infantile and chaotic, Dada took its name from the French word for a child’s hobbyhorse or possibly from the sound of a baby’s babble. Its activities included poetry readings and avant‐garde performances, as well as creating new forms of abstract art that subverted all existing conditions in western art. Though short‐lived, in Germany the Dada movement has profoundly influenced subsequent developments in avant-garde art and culture. The impact of the Dada movement was felt throughout Europe – and most powerfully in Germany from 1917-21.



The Bauhaus (1919‐33) is widely considered as the most important school of art and design of the 20th century, very quickly establishing a reputation as the leading and most progressive centre of the international avant‐garde. German architect Walter Gropius founded the school to do away with traditional distinctions between the fine arts and craft, and to forge an entirely new kind of creative designer skilled in both the conceptual aesthetics of art and the technical skills of handicrafts. The Bauhaus was considered to be both politically and artistically radical from its inception and was closed down by the National Socialists in 1933


Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic

Having emerged in Russia after World War I, Constructivism developed in Germany as a set of ideas and practices that experimented with abstract or non-representational forms and in opposition to Expressionism and Dada. Constructivists developed works and theories that fused art and with technology. They shared a utopian belief in social reform, and saw abstract art as playing a central role in this process.



By the 1920s Berlin has become the cultural and entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatised by World War 1, the sophisticated metropolis provided a rich source of imagery for artists, it also come to represent unprecedented sexual and personal freedom. In photography modernity was emphasised by unusual views of the metropolis or through the representation of city types. The diverse group of works in this section portray the uninhibited sense of freedom and innovation experienced by artists throughout Germany during the 1920s


New Objectivity

By the mid 1920s, a new style emerged that came to be known as Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. After experiencing the atrocities of World War 1 and the harsh conditions of life in postwar Germany, many artists felt the need to return to the traditional modes of representation with portraiture becoming a major vehicle of this expression, with its emphasis on the realistic representation of the human figure


Power and Degenerate Art

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 modern artists were forbidden from working and exhibiting in Germany, with their works confiscated from leading museums and then destroyed or sold on the international art market. Many avant‐garde artists were either forced to leave Germany or retreat into a state of ‘inner immigration’.

The Degenerate art exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, represented the culmination of the National Socialists’ assault on modernism. Hundreds of works were selected for the show which aimed to illustrate the mental deficiency and moral decay that had supposedly infiltrated modern German art. The haphazard and derogatory design of the exhibition sought to ridicule and further discredit modern art. Over two million people visited the exhibition while in contrast far fewer attended the Great German art exhibition which sought to promote what the Nazis considered as ‘healthy’ art.


Karl Grill. 'Untitled [Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet]' c. 1926-27


Karl Grill (German, active Donaueschingen, Germany 1920s)
Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet)
c. 1926 – 27
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 16.2cm
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer premiered his “Triadic Ballet” in Germany. He named the piece “Triadic” because it was literally composed of multiples of three: three acts, colours, dancers, and shapes. Concentrating on its form and movement, Schlemmer explored the body’s spatial relationship to its architectural surroundings. Although an abstract design, the spiral costume derived from the tutus of classical ballet.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles website


August Sander. 'Secretary at West German radio in Cologne' 1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s


August Sander (German 1876-1964)
Secretary at West German radio in Cologne
1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, III The woman, 17 The woman in intellectual and practical occupation
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 22.0cm
Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur, August Sander Archiv, Cologne (DGPH1016)
© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK  Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney





  • Berlin’s population doubles to two million people


  • Expressionists move from Dresden to Berlin


  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) the largest party in the Reichstag


  • Expressionists attain great success with their city scenes


  • World War I begins
  • George Grosz, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Dix, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann and Franz Marc enlist in the army


  • Grosz declared unfit for service, Beckmann suffers a breakdown and Schlemmer wounded


  • Marc dies in combat
  • Dada begins at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich


  • Lenin and Trotsky form the Soviet Republic after the Tzar is overthrown


  • Richard Huelsenbeck writes a Dada manifesto in Berlin
  • Kurt Schwitters creates Merz assemblages in Hanover
  • Revolutionary uprisings in Berlin and Munich
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland
  • Social Democratic Party proclaims the Weimar Republic
  • World War I ends


  • Freikorps assassinates the Spartacist leaders, Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Bauhaus established in Weimer by Walter Gropius
  • Cologne Dada group formed
  • Treaty of Versailles signed


  • Berlin is the world’s third largest city after New York and London
  • Inflation begins in Germany
  • National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) founded
  • Kapp Putsch fails after right‐wing forces try to gain control over government
  • First International Dada fair opens in Berlin


  • Hitler made chairman of the NSDAP


  • Schlemmer’s Triadic ballet premiers in Stuttgart
  • Hyperinflation continues


  • Hitler sentenced to five years imprisonment for leading the Beer Hall Putsch
  • Inflation decreases and a period of financial stability begins


  • Hitler writes Mein Kampf while in prison
  • Reduction of reparations under the Dawes Plan


  • New Objectivity exhibition opens at the Mannheim Kunsthalle
  • The Bauhaus relocates to Dessau


  • Germany joins the League of Nations


  • Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis released
  • Unemployment crisis worsens
  • Nazis hold their first Nuremburg party rally


  • Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The threepenny opera premieres in Berlin
  • Hannes Meyer becomes the second director of the Bauhaus


  • Street confrontations between the Nazis and communists in Berlin
  • Young Plan accepted, drastically reducing reparations
  • Stock market crashes on Wall Street, New York
  • Thomas Mann awarded the Nobel Prize for literature


  • Resignation of Chancellor Hermann Müller’s cabinet ending parliamentary rule
  • Minority government formed by Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party
  • Nazis win 18% of the vote and gain 95 seats in the National elections
  • Ludwig Miles van der Rohe becomes the third director of the Bauhaus
  • John Heartfield creates photomontages for the Arbeiter‐Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ)


  • Unemployment reaches five million and a state of emergency is declared in Germany


  • Nazis increase their representation in the Reichstag to 230 seats but are unable to form a majority coalition
  • Miles van der Rohe moves the Bauhaus to Berlin
  • Grosz relocates to New York in as an exile


  • Hindenberg names Hitler as Chancellor
  • Hitler creates a dictatorship under the Nazi regime
  • The first Degenerate art exhibition denouncing modern art is held in Dresden
  • Miles van der Rohe announces the closure of the Bauhaus
  • Nazis organise book burnings in Berlin
  • Many artists including Gropius, Kandinski and Klee flee Germany
  • Beckmann, Dix and Schlemmer lose their teaching positions


  • Fifteen concentration camps exist in Germany


  • The swastika becomes the flag of the Reich


  • Spanish civil war begins
  • Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles
  • Olympic Games held in Garmisch‐Partenkirchen and Berlin
  • Thomas Mann deprived of his citizenship and emigrates to the United States


  • German bombing raids over Guernica in Spain in support of Franco
  • The Nazi’s Degenerate art exhibition opens in Munich and attracts two million visitors
  • Beckmann, Kirchner and Schwitters leave Germany
  • Purging of ‘degenerate art’ from German museums continues 1


1. Timeline credit: Chronology compiled by Jacqueline Strecker and Victoria Tokarowski from the following sources:

  • Catherine Heroy ‘Chronology’ in Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom: German portraits from the 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh cat, 2006, pp. 39‐46.
  • Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, eds, ‘Political chronology’, The Weimar Republic sourcebook, Berkely 1994, pp. 765‐71.
  • Jonathan Petropoulos and Dagmar Lott‐Reschke ‘Chronology’ in Stephanie Barron, ‘Degenerate Art’: the fate of the avant‐garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, exh cat, 1991, pp. 391‐401.



László Moholy-Nagy. ‘Bauhaus Balconies’ 1926


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Bauhaus Balconies
Silver gelatin photograph


John Heartfield. 'Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish' from the 'Workers Illustrated Paper', vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675


John Heartfield (German 1891-1968)
Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish
From the Workers Illustrated Paper, vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675
38.0 x 27.0 cm
John Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin
Photo: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunstsammlung, Heartfield 2261/ Roman März
© The Heartfield Community of Heirs /VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney



John Heartfield’s photomontages expose hidden agendas in German politics and economics of the 1920s and 30s. This image was published six months before the National Socialist Party came to power, and shows Hitler with a spine made of coins and his stomach filled with gold. The caption says that he ‘swallows gold’, alluding to generous funding by right-wing industrialists, and ‘spouts rubbish’.


Max Beckmann. 'The trapeze' 1923


Max Beckmann (German 1884-1950)
The trapeze
Oil on canvas
196.5 x 84.0 cm
Toledo Museum of Art
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
Photo: Photography Incorporated, Toledo



NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website


Back to top


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
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

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
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
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)
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
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia


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


Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994)
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
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)
1934 printed 1937
Gelatin silver print


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


Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984)
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



“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
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



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
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]
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


Back to top

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,766 other followers

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

Blog Stats

  • 11,242,959 hits

If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email Marcus at and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

October 2021



If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,766 other followers