The first major exhibition of its kind, Mid-Century Modern at Melbourne’s NGV explores Australian furniture styles from the 1940s to the 1970s. Presented by the Ian Potter Centre, Mid-Century Modern charts four decades of dynamic design.
Keen to know more about the movers and shakers in Australian furniture design? Mid-Century Modern at the NGV offers an insightful look into iconic home-grown style from the 1940s to the 1970s, featuring work from Australian greats such as Grant Featherston, Clement Meadmore, Gordon Andrews and more.
In the decades following World War II, Australia experienced significant social change. A spirit of optimism emerged in the aftermath of years of crippling depression and debilitating war. Prime Minister Chifley promoted immigration with the slogan “Populate or perish”, resulting in a rich, new cultural diversity and an influx of skilled European artisans.
A new style of cosmopolitan living was introduced. New techniques for mass-production were forged. New materials became available whilst others grew scarce, driving innovation. The result – the contemporary Australian interior was revolutionised.
Inspired by the shifting paradigm of modernism, local designers struck out against the over-stuffed, traditional conservatism of the pre-war period. Furniture design evolved into flexible and organic forms, showcasing pared-back, sculptural silhouettes. The modernist ethos was that good design could enhance an individual’s life.
Ornate gave way to sleek simplicity; timber and luxe upholstery, to plywood, steel and industrial plastics. Grant Featherston’s Contour seating range and Clement Meadmore’s welded steel corded chairs are now synonymous with Australian interiors of the 1950s. Similarly the sophistication of Gordon Andrews’ designs for home and office represent the 1960s. These designs are on show alongside those of Douglas Snelling, Fred Lowen, even Fred Ward’s post-war DIY Patterncraft furniture (paper patterns for creating your own furniture).
The exhibition presents the designers’ drawings and workings as well as textiles, and photos of contemporary architecture as context as well as interior vignettes, including a full-scale living room of the 1955 Age Dream Home. It includes work by visual artists and occasional dabblers in furniture design, Robert Klippel and Janet Dawson.
Tony Ellwood, director of the NGV, explains, “Mid-Century Modern is the first major Australian survey to provide an in-depth look at this period, revealing how Australian furniture designers moved away from traditional, conservative pre-war styles and forged a new language of design that was innovative in its use of materials, functional and often imbued with a good dose of style.”
NGV’s Mid-Century Modern exhibition is open 30 May 2014 to 19 Oct 2014. Immerse yourself in vintage velvet browns and burnt oranges, and peruse over 100 seminal pieces of Australian furniture design.
The Ian Potter Centre:
NGV Australia at Federation Square
Buy tickets here.