1 8 August February 2009 Modern times reveals how modernism transformed life in Australia across five tumultuous decades from 1917 to The exhibition traces for the first time the impact of modernism on all aspects of Australian culture from art, design and architecture to advertising, photography, film and fashion. Modernism sought to build a better future in the aftermath of World War I. An international movement, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the 20th century. It celebrated the romance of cities, the healthy body and the ideals of abstraction and functionalism in design. Modern times looks at how modernism defined a new cosmopolitan culture in Australia, highlighting stories of avantgarde experiments. The exhibition also explores the city and its skyscrapers, milk bars and swimming pools, where modernism profoundly reshaped Australian life. Image: at the Pasha nightclub, Cooma, late 1950s. Photo by Jeff Carter.
2 Modern bodies One glance at the screen reveals that the ornaments consist of thousands of bodies Siegfried Kracauer, The mass ornament, 1927 In the early decades of the 20th century, visions of healthy young bodies attempted to block out the horrors of the Great War of that had decimated a generation of young men. Imagining a new man and new woman fit for the modern world was a subject of wide speculation by various social, racial and sexual liberation movements. The new mass media of film, photography and advertising offered glamorous spectacles of the latest fashion, revealing ever more of the female body. Dance crazes, exercise regimes, surf life saving and swimming all glorified energetic youthful bodies to offset the debilitating effects of life in the machine age. Annette Kellerman ( ) was a world champion swimmer, star of stage and screen, and an advocate for the new woman. Her Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women featured the modesty panel, a tight-fitting short skirt placed over her swimsuit. This style of costume had become commercially available by the mid 1920s. In 1928 the Australian corset manufacturer Berlei released a scientific fitting system that promised good health and posture. Berlei sales staff used this indicator to divide women into one of five figure types. TEACHERS NOTES 2
3 Metropolitan exchanges There is no such thing as Australian art or English art. Art is universal. Anne Dangar, Undergrowth, 1929 Modernist culture was international in outlook. Its visionary ideas were circulated by expatriates, travellers and emigrants from metropolitan centres, as well as through publications and exhibitions. In the early 20th century the allure of cosmopolitan cities, particularly Paris and later New York, attracted students of the avant-garde who translated modernist ideas to a wider audience back home. With the rise of fascism and World War II, successive waves of European refugees arrived in Australia. Many of these exiles brought with them new modernist values and cultures, profoundly challenging the character of Australian society. American expatriate architects Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin designed six of these spectacular lights for Melbourne s Capitol Theatre, which opened in Young Australian designers Gordon Andrews and Geoffrey Collings in France for the 1937 Paris Exposition. Photo by Dahl Collings. TEACHERS NOTES 3
4 The architect s studio This is a partial recreation of the studio Harry Seidler ( ) designed as his own office and home. It demonstrates the sophisticated modernism he brought to Sydney in the late 1940s. Seidler went on to become one of Australia s foremost architects and a passionate advocate of modernism. Born in 1923 in Vienna, Seidler fled the Nazi occupation for England in He studied building but was later interned as an enemy alien and shipped to Canada. By 1941 he was studying architecture, first at the University of Manitoba, then at Harvard s Graduate School of Design under former Bauhaus masters Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, and later with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College. After working with Breuer in New York and Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil, he came to Sydney to design a house for his parents, the Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga. The Seidler studio in Point Piper as it appeared in Art and Design, no 1, Photo courtesy Penelope Seidler In 1948 Seidler transformed a dark basement in Point Piper into a glass-walled studio overlooking Sydney Harbour, where he worked for a decade until his marriage to Penelope Evatt in Harry and Penelope Seidler celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and Penelope s 21st birthday, in the studio, 15 December Photo courtesy Penelope Seidler TEACHERS NOTES 4
5 Black<>white masks These are simply what the designers consider it should be like, he said. We produce the real thing. Wiradjuri man Bill Onus, Home Beautiful, 1955 It was the artist Margaret Preston ( ) who, in the 1920s, first championed Aboriginal art as an art taken from the Australian Aborigine: an art for Australia from Australians. Over the following decades, many white artists and designers adapted Aboriginal forms and motifs as a form of Australian modernism. The embrace of the so-called primitive by modernists is now widely seen as appropriation. Indigenous artists and curators accuse them of making Aboriginal art without Aborigines. By contrast, the contemporary work of Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira ( ) represented his land using western conventions as a form of exchange between cultures. An elegant synthesis of the boomerang and 1950s scientific imagery, the Boomerang coffee table was designed by the Australian sculptor Robert Klippel in about Collection of Andrew Klippel, photo courtesy Art Gallery of NSW Research Library and Archive The 1955 film Jedda follows a black girl brought up as a white child on a cattle station. Significantly it cast Aboriginal actors in the lead roles. TEACHERS NOTES 5
6 Crossing media All art should be creative and experimental: remember it is from painting that stems the designing of our constructions, decorating, dress, decors, in fact all our visual furniture. Sam Atyeo, Talks on modernism, Experimental projects launched by modern artists, designers and architects were the driving force for change in Australian culture. Inspired by European avant-garde practices, particularly the Bauhaus in Germany, these temporary collaborations explored the material properties of different media and the principles of modern design applied to contemporary living. While art museums largely shunned modernism till the 1960s, retailers were among the earliest to turn modern: commissioning designs or hosting exhibitions of innovative contemporary art, design and architecture. In the 1950s Clement Meadmore launched a series of elegant steel frame furniture designs including the Michael Hirst chair, designed by Meadmore and made by Michael Hirst Pty Ltd in Melbourne, The brochure Gordon Andrews designed for the exhibition Seven designers, curated by Marion Hall Best, at David Jones Gallery in TEACHERS NOTES 6
7 The city Being hustled by a modern crowd into the modern city streets, where electric trams, motor cars, concrete and steel, colour and human beings seem all messed up and doing jazz Here are subjects waiting to be treated. Jean Curlewis, Art in Australia, 1928 Modernism was a style of big cities and urban life. For much of the 20th century it was at odds with the Australian self-image, still focused on rural symbols. Instead of flight to the suburbs, modernism celebrated the romance of cities. The Australian-made Goggomobil Dart was launched in Although only a few thousand Goggomobils were produced, they are a famous forerunner of the cheap and sporty cars of the 1960s and later years. Modernism was a vehicle of optimism, creating new and diverse possibilities for city life. Planners and engineers promised an end to congestion and urban malaise, while others revelled in the chaos of movement and experience. Photographer David Mist captured the optimism of urban modernism in his work for Studio Ten, Sydney s leading fashion and advertising studio in the 1960s. TEACHERS NOTES 7
8 Cool play Mention of a modern milk bar immediately conjures up a picture of glittering premises ablaze with colour and light. Australian confectioner and milk bar journal, 1952 Modernism became part of Australian life at new leisure venues milk bars, cinemas, cafes, swimming pools, amusement parks. Taking their cues from Hollywood, these places liberated popular fun from charitable and religious control, creating a thriving economy of style and pleasure. Modern design invigorated main streets and public places. Anodised aluminium tumblers added colour to the corner milk bar. These tumblers dating from the 1950s were used in Keary s Milk Bar, which operated continuously in Strathfield, Sydney, from 1912 until Socially and architecturally, milk bars and modern swimming pools created new experiences, somewhat outside the old rules of society. They challenged divisions of gender, generation, class and heritage. In their different ways milk bars and pools offered opportunities to be modern. This form-fitting 1950s bathing costume was owned by Annette Kellerman and features a classic print inspired by a mix of scientific crystal diagrams and golf motifs! TEACHERS NOTES 8
9 A new alliance We are mesmerised by the appearance of Americana our car copies the dollar grin, not the automatic gears. Robin Boyd, The Age, 1957 After the human cataclysm of World War II, science assumed a new pre-eminence as an instrument of the emerging Cold War. Through the 1950s and 60s Australia aspired to a modern identity, one no longer invested in rural or colonial links, but aligned to the atomic age and a new but occasionally troubling alliance with America. This model of the Sydney Opera House was used to estimate the distribution of wind pressure over the roof sails. It was made in 1960, three years after Jørn Utzon won the Opera House competition. Architects collaborated with engineers to create a brief but exultant explosion of experiment. Artists and designers explored light, plastics, electronic media and other modern technologies. The Expo chair was originally designed by Grant and Mary Featherston for the Australian Pavilion at Montreal Expo 67. It featured a concealed sound system that delivered talks in English and French. This is the version that was released commercially, the Expo mark II. TEACHERS NOTES 9
10 Publication Edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara, Modern times brings together 25 essays and over 250 images. Co-published with The Miegunyah Press, an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing. RRP: $49.95, Powerhouse members receive a 10% discount Available from the Powerhouse Shop or online at powerhousemuseum.com/publications Major partner Supporter For more information on the exhibition Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia, visit the Powerhouse Museum s website For more information about education support or your booking, contact Education and Program Development at the Powerhouse Museum: Telephone (02) Fax (02) Subscribe to Connector, our free education e-newsletter, by logging on to Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. This publication is copyright. Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of research, study, criticism or review, or as otherwise permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. The Powerhouse Museum, part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, also incorporating the Powerhouse Discovery Centre and Sydney Observatory, is a NSW government cultural institution.