Clement Meadmore and the Art Of Mid-Century Design

At Australian Modern we are truly passionate about Australian Mid-Century Design, so it may not come as a surprise when we tell you that we have been working on a very special design project. What is this project you may well ask? It’s the first major survey of Clement Meadmore’s industrial design practice from 1951-1963.

The exhibition will include newly discovered designs that have never been exhibited and a rare opportunity to see Clem’s furniture and lighting designed for the iconic Legend Cafe and Teahouse in Melbourne.

At the moment we are busy working on the catalogue, but I can say that the exhibition will is planned for November, 2018. You can expect an official announcement in the coming weeks.

The Legend Cafe, designed by Clement Meadmore, 1956.

The exhibition is 10 years in the making and will feature furniture, lighting, graphic design, and archival images. We have managed to locate most of Clem’s designs, but there are still a some designs from the Meadmore Originals catalogue that have managed to allude us. Can you help find the missing designs? It would be fantastic to include them in the exhibition.

If you have any information on these missing designs (see below) please email me at: australianmodern@yahoo.com.au

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The Story of Curl: A Clement Meadmore Sculpture

Clement Meadmore is perhaps the most famous sculptor to originate from Australia, his twisting metal forms can be found in galleries and parks around the world. Starting out as an industrial designer in Melbourne during the early 1950s, Meadmore produced a small range of furniture and lighting that was clearly inspired by his passion for jazz and abstract art.

After a trip to Europe in 1953, Meadmore’s interest in sculpture grew and by the mid 1950s Meadmore was exhibiting metal forms that arguably drew inspiration from international artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Piet Mondrian. In 1959, Clem, with the assistance of friend Max Hutchinson, set up Gallery A in Flinders lane, Melbourne. The gallery, a little Bauhaus in Melbourne, not only provided a space for progressive artists and designers, it also created a community for people looking to breakaway from the oppressive and conservative nature of the 1950s Australian art scene.

After 3 years living in Sydney, in 1963 Meadmore packed his bags and left Australia for the hussle and bustle of New York, a big city with a thriving art scene. In the beginning Meadmore faced many challenges, but by the end of the 1960’s he had found his niche, creating new works that arguably married his background in engineering and his interest in abstract forms.

Curl (1968), as noted by Robert Ferrari, was Meadmore’s first commission for a large scale public monument. The short video below is a fascinating account of the story behind this important work.

 

 

A Powerhouse of Post-War Design.

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The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has one of the most diverse collections
of poat-war design, including examples of furniture, lighting, textiles and graphic design from the period. The collection features Australian and international designers, including many rare pieces by Grant Featherston, Gordon Andrews, Clement Meadmore, Fred Lowen and Francis Burke. The Powerhouse is an excellent resource for researchers or anyone interested in social history.

Due to the enormous scale of the collection, many of the pieces are stored offsite at the Powerhouse Discovery Centre in Castle Hill. Although the collection is generally closed to the public, the Powerhouse Museum have a range of initiatives to promote the collection, which includes holding open days and tours of the facility so that members of the public can enjoy viewing the designer treasures.

The Powerhouse Museum also commissioned the production of an interactive video tour titled ‘Please Be Seated’ which is hosted by museum curator Dr. Paul Donnelly.

The video tour presents a rare opportunity to take a glimpse inside one of the best collections of post-war design in the country. So please be seated, put your feet up, sit back and prepare yourself for some serious eye candy and enjoy your interactive video tour.

Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design Exhibition.

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Contour chairs c.1953. Grant FEATHERSTON (designer); EMERSON BROS PTY LTD, Melbourne (manufacturer).

The National Gallery of Victoria will be hosting an exhibition of original Mid-Century furniture. Featuring works by some of Australia’s top designers of the period (Featherston, Meadmore, Fred Ward) and many more, the exhibition will showcase over 100 iconic pieces from the post-war period.

“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.”

This is a great chance to see iconic pieces by some of Australia’s best post-war furniture designers. Curator Kirsty Grant has searched through Australia’s best public and private collections to source original pieces, many to be displayed for the first time.
There will also be a stunning exhibition catalogue featuring designer biographies, articles and loads of beautiful photographs of mid-century Australian furniture.

Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia from 30 May to 19 October 2014. Open 10am–5pm, closed Mondays. Admission fees apply: Adult $10 | Concession $7 | Children (16 and under) Free.

If you would like to know more please check out the NGV media release.

Please note that some of the text and the Grant Featherston furniture photograph (see above) was sourced from the NGV website
.

Highly Strung Design: Modernist String Chairs

If you have ever wondered about the answer to the question
‘how long is a piece of string’? You might be surprised to
discover that it all depends on the chair.

For me, nothing says post-war design quite like a string
chair. Free of the unnecessary padding and upholstery of
more traditional furnishings, these chairs show off their
construction elements for all the world to see. They may
not be fancy chairs, but they are certainly no ugly ducklings.
Like webbed chairs, or the furniture of early modernists
such as Marcel Breuer and Gerrit Rietveld, the string chair,
sometimes refered to as a corded chair, is an exercise
in honesty and demonstrates that beauty can be found
in simplicity.

String chairs play with light and space as they almost
shimmer like a mirage due to their semi-solid state.
And though they may not appear sturdy, it’s surprising
just how much comfort and support can be produced
using long lengths of flagline or sashcord wrapped
around a steel or timber chair frame. Which begs
yet another question, is it the string that transforms
the frame into a chair?

Being a fan of the corded furniture designed by
Clement Meadmore in Australia during the early 1950’s,
I thought it might be nice to take a look at some of the great
designs produced in other countries, both in the 1950’s and
into the 1960’s. The selection below is made up of some of
my favourite designs. Perhaps 1970’s U.K. comedians The
Goodies were right when they sang ‘everybody loves string’.

If you love string chairs or you have a favourite string chair,
please leave a comment.

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Clement Meadmore corded chair, Australia, circa 1952.

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Poul Kjaerholm, ‘Holscher’ chair, Denmark, circa 1952.

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Unknown designer (possibly Clement Meadmore), most likely Australian, circa 1950’s.

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Alan Gould Lounge Chair, U.S.A. circa 1950’s.

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Carl Koch for Tubbs of Vermont, U.S.A. circa 1950’s.

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Jacques Guillon, Cord Chair, Canada, circa 1953

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Hans Wegner ” Flag Line ” Halyard Lounge Chair, Denmark, circa 1960’s.

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Jorgen Hovelskov, ‘Harp’ Chair 1968.

//

Clement Meadmore: Furniture as Art.

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As I continue to research the output of sculptor/industrial designer Clement Meadmore, the more intrigued I become about the man and his creative practice. After chatting to some of the people who knew Clem, I think it’s fair to say that although Meadmore had developed a keen interest in furniture design, it was his passion for sculpture that was the key driving force in his life. But that’s hardly surprising when you look at his furniture or lighting designs. Take for example Meadmore’s corded recliner (see pic above), it’s lines formed from cold bent steel only take on the form of a chair via the addition of countless metres of sash cord wrapped around it’s angular form. This is no ordinary chair; it is a sculpture that can facilitate the act of sitting.

Meadmore’s early designs are unique in that they adopt craft traditions and processes to aid their production. Infact, Meadmore’s earliest furniture was reportedly made with the assistance of a local blacksmith, but unfortunately I am yet to see any documentation of these works. So in a time of mass-production, we have Clem hand building furniture from steel rod and sash cord in his backyard shed. But luckily others also recognized Meadmore’s potential, leading to Clem winning a host of good design awards and gathering praise amongst architects and national lifestyle magazines. Even when Meadmore sold his business (Meadmore Originals) including the rights to his designs, to fund an overseas trip, on his return to Australia he continued to hand build furniture from his backyard on a commission basis.
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Meadmore may not have been a great businessman, but what he lacked in business acumen, he more than made up for in creativity. Meadmore’s Calyx lamp (pictured above) is a prime example of his ability to reinterpret the modernist style. The lamp’s appearance looks sleek at first glance, but as you look closer the evidence of the hand is visible in the welds and the handpainted spun aluminum shades. In the late 1950’s, as Meadmore began to gain recognition in art circles for his sculptures, the production of his furniture designs was outsourced to Michael Hirst and/or Gallery A Contract Furniture of which Meadmore was a partner at the time.

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Meadmore’s DC601A chair (pictured above) produced by Michael Hirst Pty Ltd was originally designed for the swanky jazz hangout ‘The Embers Nigthclub’, located in Toorak, Melbourne. The design of the DC601A is often considered to be more resolved than Clem’s earlier furniture, but its difficult to ignore the chair’s similarities with the furniture designs of American Harry Bertoia, who also went on to enjoy a successful career as a sculptor. 
But these later designs, reminiscent of the wireframes used in 3D software, are perhaps also an extension of Meadmore’s ongoing love affair with abstract expressionism and his determination to render the form virtually invisible. He had succeeded in transforming his furniture into mere outlines constructed in fine rods of steel. Or Perhaps Clem had taken his furniture designs as far as he could, for the transition from industrial designer to sculptor was arguably now complete. If you don’t believe me, take a look at one of Clem’s bespoke designs, a steel and glass coffee table in the NGV Melbourne collection. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an example of Meadmore at his finest.

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By 1960 Clem had truly begun his metamorphosis into an international artist, and in 1963 moved to New York to concentrate on his art career. Perhaps as a parting gift, the same year he arrived in New York he designed what would be the last of his chairs. The ‘Sling Chair’ (pictured below), now in the MOMA collection, was made by Leiff Wessman Associates of New York in 1963. It looks and behaves just like a chair, but the more I look at this most polished of chairs, the more I long for the raw qualities that made his early furniture so distinct and somewhat unique.

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I guess the best thing about Meadmore’s design ourve is that there is generally something for everybody, as long as you like metal furniture. But collecting Australian post-war furniture and objects isn’t just about constructing an interior, its also about preserving and conserving these treasures so that others can enjoy them in the future.

If you want to know more about Meadmore, I recently wrote an article about identifying and authenticating Meadmore furniture which appeared in Australian Modern magazine. I would also like to thank Geoff from Shamrock Furniture (specialists in Australian Modern) in Melbourne for kindly allowing me to use some of his studio photographs of Meadmore furniture for the magazine article. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Australian Modern magazine, it’s produced by the same great team who brought you ‘Brisbane Modern’ magazine and it’s full of great articles about the modernist movement in Australia.

If you would like to see more examples of Clement Meadmore’s furniture and lighting designs, then check out my Meadmore photo set on Flickr or this excellent video produced by a Melbourne collector.

If you have any information and/or questions about Clement Meadmore’s furniture from the 1950’s, or know anyone who bought or commissioned furniture by Clem, please email me at australianmodern@yahoo.com.au

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A Matter of Looking: Clement Meadmore film


If you are a regular reader of the Australian Modern blog, you will already
be familiar with the name Clement Meadmore. Whether you are a fan of
his furniture or his iconic twisting metal sculptures, it’s hard to ignore the
unique talent of Clement Meadmore, nor his important place in our art history.
Although Meadmore achieved international success and is represented in
galleries across the world, it would appear that he has received very little
acknowledgement in his country of birth, Australia.

Luckily for us, Sydney based filmmakers Amanda King and Fabio Cavadini of
Frontyard Films are about to put that all right. A Matter of Looking  is currently
in production and will focus on Meadmore’s work as a sculptor. News is that
they are currently conducting interviews and documenting Meadmore works.

The film is an important project, but like all independent films, it is heavily reliant
on funding.  So get behind the film and lend your support with a donation and help
to turn this fantastic project into a reality.