Step Back in Style: Mid-Century Modern in Melbourne

The moment we have all been waiting for has arrived. Of course I’m talking about the opening of the Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in Melbourne. I had a chance to preview the exhibition and it’s every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Curated by Kirsty Grant, the exhibition is a wonderful blend of mid-century furniture, lighting and textiles designed by some of our most iconic designers. A clever touch is the inclusion of a selection of corded chairs produced by ‘unknown’ designers of the period to illustrate the active appropriation and interpretation of dominant design trends. Walking through the gallery space, you sometimes feel like you’re attending a 1950’s furniture trade show. The walls are flanked with enormous images taken from the front covers of 1950’s Home Beautiful magaznes.
A highlight is the recreation of the interior of the living room featured in The Age Small Homes Service display house deigned by Neil Clerehan in 1955. A nice detail was the inclusion of a knotted pine panel at the back if the room and a Stegbar style ‘window wall’. It instantly brought back memories of my parents 1950’s modernist home in bayside Aspendale.There are little nooks where you can relax and pick up a portable touchscreen to flick through digitised copies of Home Beautiful magazines from the post-war period. There is also a wonderful display of archival photographs and trade catalogues.
The furniture and lighting is the star of the show. Chairs float on plinths at various heights on the wall and ground level. Expect to see rare pieces by Grant Featherston, Clement Meadmore, Douglas Snelling, Roger McLay, Fred Lowen, Fred Ward and Schulim Krimper and many more. There is a interesting archival film that takes a playful look at the making of a Featherston contour chair. There is also a wide range of Featherston chairs on display, including a rare prototype an ‘Eleanor’ chair from his popular contour range.
For me, a personal highlight is a rare collection of lighting designed by Clement Meadmore in the mid-fifties for the Legend Cafe and the Teahouse in Bourke St, Melbourne. Another favourite thing is a short video documenting the process of re-cording a Meadmore chair.

A collection of pieces by emigre designers George Korody and Schulim Krimper brings a distinctly European flavour to the exhibition. One glance at Krimper’s beautifully crafted furniture and you instantly understand why he has long been acknowledged as a master craftsman in this country.
It was also nice to see the inclusion of printed fabrics by textile artists such as Frances Burke. Simply pinned to the walls, the bold abstract patterns compliment the furniture whilst providing an insight into the emergent trends in textile design. The design of the exhibition space is brilliantly conceived as you effortlessly navigate your way in a linear fashion through the furniture of the 1940’s up until the 1970’s. There is so much to enjoy in this exhibition. I liked it so much I went back this afternoon for another viewing, but mostly I wanted to experience that feeling of being in a space that is energised by the optimism, innovation and creativity of these great Australian post-war designers and artists.

I have been waiting a long time for this exhibition and it was everything I hoped for and more. If you have a passion for Australian post-war furniture design, you will savour every moment. Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design will run from 30 May – 19 Oct 2014, Open 10am–5pm. Tickets Adult (16 years and above) $10 Child (up to and including 15) Free Concession $7 NGV Member Adult $6 P.S. If your planning on going a number of times it’s worth considering an unlimited ticket. It doesn’t cost a lot more and you can go as many times as you like. For more details ask at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia ticket counter.


One thought on “Step Back in Style: Mid-Century Modern in Melbourne

  1. Thanks Jason. The exhibition is amazing. Kirsty Grant and the NGV crew have done an incredible job in putting together a spectacular display of Australian Mid-Century furniture design. The catalogue is a triumph.


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