Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design is the first major exhibition dedicated to Australian furniture of the 1940s to the 1970s; a period of dynamic social change as Australians embraced modern ideals to encapsulate a new, cosmopolitan mode of living characterised by innovative and flexible furniture design.
Innovative furniture design took hold in Australia following World War Two, prompted in part by the availability of new materials (and sometimes the shortages of others), the development of new production techniques and the influx of European immigrants who were skilled in the traditions of fine furniture making. Taking their cue from international trends in furniture, local designers adopted the pared-back language of modernism to create stylish sculptural furniture that was functional and flexible and which found the ideal setting in the modernist architecture of the period.
From Grant Featherston’s iconic plywood Contour range and Clement Meadmore’s welded steel corded chairs, so distinctive of the 1950s, to Gordon Andrews’ elegant 1960s designs for home and office, mid-century modern furniture design turned its back on the overstuffed and ornate examples of previous decades and in doing so, revolutionised the contemporary interior.
The exhibition will focus on the work of figures including Grant Featherston, Clement Meadmore, Douglas Snelling, Gordon Andrews, Fred Lowen, Lester Bunbury and Schulim Krimper. It will also encompass designs by visual artists such as Robert Klippel and Janet Dawson who occasionally adapted their creative skills to the production of furniture, and examples of do-it-yourself Patterncraft furniture designed by Fred Ward.
The important relationship between contemporary architecture and furniture design will be highlighted through the ‘recreation’ of modern interior vignettes and the 1971 Marion Hall Best interior designed for Joan and Richard Crebbin’s Castlecrag home comprising Gordon Andrews’ Rondo chairs, a Mona Hessing shag-pile rug and Jack Meyers’ sound/wall sculpture (NGV). Contextual material including working drawings, textiles of the period and photographs of contemporary architecture will also be included, building a rich picture of this relatively little known aspect of Australia’s design history.
Mid-Century Modern also charts the dramatic changes that took place within Australian furniture design and manufacture across four decades, from a very modest industry in the post-war years which did its utmost to produce well-designed and affordable furniture and which, by the 1960s, was able to manufacture designs that catered to the local market as well as being exported in vast quantities.
Alongside these seminal modern furniture pieces, Mid-Century Modern will encompass designs by visual artists such as Robert Klippel and Janet Dawson who occasionally adapted their creative skills to the production of furniture, and examples of Fred Ward’s post-war do-it-yourself Patterncraft furniture. Contextual material including working drawings, textiles of the period and photographs of contemporary architecture will also be included, building a rich picture of this relatively little known aspect of Australia’s design history.
A beautifully illustrated 200-page, hardcover publication will be produced in association with the exhibition, which brings together a series of essays that elaborate on various aspects of mid-century Australian design. Exhibition curator Kirsty Grant provides an overview of furniture design from the period, balanced by an in-depth text on mid-century architecture, the natural counterpart of furniture, by Dr Conrad Hamman. Essays discussing the careers of Featherston, Meadmore and Michael Hirst are included, along with texts by architect Neil Clerehan, designer Mary Featherston, conservator Suzanna Shaw and collector Dean Keep. Available from the NGV Shop and most bookstores for RRP$39.95.