One recent frosty morning we cranked up the coffee maker, logged into our email and found an invitation to the opening of Mid-Century Modern at NGV Australia. A great start to the day! It's also a great exhibition – the first major survey show dedicated to Australian furniture design of the post-war years. As well as a fascinating overview of the materials and manufacturing systems that shaped Australia's take on modernism, it pulls together rare pieces and sketches that reveal the working processes of key designers including Grant Featherston, Douglas Snelling, Fred Lowen and Clement Meadmore.
Modern Times-er Penny Rogers went along to the opening and brought us back this photo diary. Thanks Penny!
The first pieces you see when you walk into the exhibition are these Douglas Snelling chairs, designed in 1946. They were part of the first collection of modern furniture to be mass-produced in Australia. The webbing was actually made from the same synthetic used in the production of parachutes during the war.
There are some fascinating publications on display throughout the gallery. This spread shows the Snelling Line armchairs in situ. Their use as indoor/outdoor furniture reminds me of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chair, which has a similar feel and works well in both contexts (provided it's given some protection of course!).
This piece by Fred Ward noticeably has more of an old-world style to it. I think the simple hardwood detailing is really beautiful. Suitably called the 'Blueprint' chair, this 1950 design evolved from the Patterncraft range, which was developed for soldiers returning from war (who usually blew a huge chunk of their money straight away on a house and car, leaving little left for furniture). You ordered the blueprints and parts and assembled the chairs at home.
This display shows the Corded Armchair, 1952, designed by Clement Meadmore (left) and the Cane-metal Chair, 1954, designed by Grant Featherston (right). To me the appeal of these chairs is all about the combination of materials – woven cotton cord and natural cane against and the hard black lines of the steel frames.
Here's the Corded armchair displayed with its matching table. These were some of the first pieces produced as part of the 'Meadmore Originals' range, after Clement Meadmore founded his manufacturing company in 1952. The cotton cord was actually also used in the manufacture of Venetian blinds.
Grant Featherston is easily the most recognised Australian furniture designer. He certainly was very popular and prolific. There's naturally a lot of his work featured in the exhibition – along with advertisements and early sketches, which give a really well-rounded impression of his work, concepts and process. The Australian Home Beautiful spread above shows the sheets of bent plywood that formed the basis of his iconic Contour chair.
The Contour chair was Featherston's most popular and celebrated design, and it's nice to see it alongside some rarer pieces from his Contour range to get an idea of the scope of his work.
The exhibition is so well considered. I think it's lovely that the early development stages of the design process are shown so you can see the humble beginnings of each piece, as in Featherston's sketches above.
Above are two displays featuring Featherston's 'Television' chair, from his Contour range. This design was released three years before TV actually arrived in Australian homes, which shows the anticipation people felt about the idea of 'televiewing'.
The exhibition also includes some great TV advertisements showing how the Contour Chair was moulded and designed. I tried to find this on Youtube and failed – a great reason to pop into the exhibition to see it for yourself!
I was so into this 'Colourflex' paint. If they still produced something similar now I'd be all over it!
It was interesting to see the different paint and textile colours that were in fashion at the time. Below is an interiors shoot from the 1950s that features a lot of the colour palette shown above.
This one was just so cute and textural that I had to take a photo! Little did I know that it's actually a covered version of the Kone chair, designed by Roger Mclay in 1948. Originally this chair was only available in plywood, and the design features a small cut-out hole through the bottom, but that didn't appeal to everyone so they made these little covers.
These were two of my favourite pieces in the exhibition. The chair is actually by Grant Featherston, although it differs from his other signature works in the Contour range. It's actually the prototype for his 'Wire' chair, designed in 1963. It's rather pared-back, using only painted steel piping. Next to it is a stunning coffee table by Clement Meadmore, who typically used a lot of steel piping for his furniture. This 1959 design is so striking, and the table seems to morph and change at different angles and view points.
Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design will be on show at Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia until 19 October, with floor talks happening in July, August, September and October. Definitely check out the associated publication, too. It's edited by the exhibition's curator Kirsty Grant and includes beautiful photographs of more than 100 iconic Australian mid-century pieces.