Author Archives: Anne-Marie Van de Ven

Vale Peter Rushforth, a great Australian ceramicist

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Stoneware bowl made by Peter Rushforth, Sydney, NSW, c.1964. Gift of Garry Anderson, 1991. 92/1555

Stoneware bowl made by Peter Rushforth, Sydney, c 1964, MAAS collection 92/1555

Peter Rushforth was one of Australia’s great ceramicists. Along with a number of his contemporaries, including his early mentor Allan Lowe, Rushforth shared an abiding interest in Asian, especially Chinese and Japanese ceramic aesthetics, philosophies and traditions. The New South Wales potter and pottery teacher passed away in Katoomba on 22 July. We’re saddened by this news at the Museum; we have a number of connections with Rushforth and works created by him in our collection.

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Shirley Martin: Australian industrial designer

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Olympic Games towel designed by Shirley de Vocht for Dri-Glo Towels, Sydney, 1956, MAAS collection, 2002/88/8

Olympic Games towel designed by Shirley de Vocht for Dri-Glo Towels, Sydney, 1956, MAAS collection, 2002/88/8

Shirley Martin was a female industrial designer based in Sydney who had a long and illustrious career as a post-WWII Australian textile and ceramic designer. She is best known for designing the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games towel, but there is much more to her remarkable design industry success story.

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Florence Broadhurst’s Fabulous Foils

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Florence Broadhurst, unknown photographer, 1920s, MAAS collection, 97/98/1-4/9

Florence Broadhurst, unknown photographer, 1920s, MAAS collection, 97/98/1-4/9

From the mid 19th century, wallpapers used in Australia had predominantly been imported from Britain, but also from France, Canada and America. In 1959, Florence Broadhurst decided to buck the trend. Turning 60, she established Australian (Hand-Printed) Wallpapers (renamed Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers in 1969). It is this, her final design and production venture, as well as her reputation as a colourful Sydney personality with an A-list of prestigious clients, and her still-unresolved murder in 1977, for which Broadhurst is best remembered today.

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Portrait of the artist

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2007/30/1-69/5/24 Photographic negative, square format 6 x 6cm, Dahl Collings at Stonehenge, photograph by Geoffrey Collings, England, c.1936. Collection: MAAS

2007/30/1-69/5/24 Photographic negative, square format 6 x 6cm, Dahl Collings at Stonehenge, photograph by Geoffrey Collings, England, c.1936. Collection: MAAS

This rather majestic black and white photographic portrait of Australian artist, designer and photographer Dahl Collings (Dulcie May Wilmott 1910-1988) was shot by her husband Geoffrey Collings (1905-2000) during a trip to Stonehenge around 1936. It has recently been digitized from a two and a quarter inch square negative still housed in its  original glassine sleeve, part of the Dahl and Geoffrey Collings archives held by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney. These important archives document and reference Dahl and Geoffrey Collings multi-faceted Australian and international cross-disciplinary art, design, photography and film practice from the early 1930s through to around 1980.

Together with other photographs in the Collings archives, including the image of the Orion wharved at Sydney Harbour in 1935 (below), this portrait of Dahl demonstrates the Collingses’ emerging interest in asymetrical non-pictorialist modernism (where spatial planes are as significant as forms within the frame). Others shots highlight the influence of the British documentary film and photography movement on their practice (where the human condition is documented ‘truthfully’ in rural or urban settings). A carefully constructed, it places emphasis on the ingenuity of Stonehenge’s construction and the diminutive scale of the human figure when juxtaposed against the man-made monumentality of this prehistoric structure. The Collingses’ own artistic practice is represented by the presence of the artist holding a camera.

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David Mist collection digitization project

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Portrait of children published in ‘Sydney: a book of photographs’, 1969

Portrait of children published in ‘Sydney: a book of photographs’, 1969

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds two important photography archives related to Sydney photographer David Mist – the Studio Ten archive (92/401) acquired as a gift of the photographer in 1992, and the David Mist archive (96/44/1) acquired as a gift of the photographer under the Australian Government Taxation Incentives for the Arts program in 1996. In recent years David Mist has been helping digitize these irreplaceable analogue collections with the Museum regularly lending David batches of negatives and transparencies to scan. These digital records then get added to the Collection Database. Thank you David!
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NAIDOC Week 6-13 July 2014

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P3188 Photographic prints, (4), aboriginal carvings, Cowan's Creek, Bantry Bay, Mossman's Bay, Australia, [

P3188 Photographic prints, (4), aboriginal carvings, Cowan’s Creek, Bantry Bay, Mossman’s Bay, Australia, C1890. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

The Powerhouse Museum has an amazing range of Australian and international, historical and contemporary objects which tell us so much about who we are, where we came from and perhaps more importantly, they may help us identify who we are now and where we are going. NAIDOC week stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. According to the NAIDOC website, NAIDOC Week’s origins “can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920’s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians”. Today NAIDOC Week is commemorated on the first full week of July. It is a time to remember to pay tribute to and recognise Indigenous Australians vital connection and contribution to country, culture and society.
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The Art of Curating

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Guest in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition (Nathan Jurevicius case study), Sydney Design Festival launch, August 2006. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Guest in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition (Nathan Jurevicius case study), Sydney Design Festival launch, August 2006. Photo: Prudence Upton.

As the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney undertakes a restructure, downsizing staff numbers as it endeavours to become more nimble and sustainable, curators will soon be re-applying for their jobs. My thoughts turn to the often envied, sometimes maligned, role of the curator and to curatorial competencies.

What makes a competent curator? 

After almost 30 years of experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most important attributes of a competent curator, is the ability to be discerning (though I’m not exactly sure how one would go about measuring this capability). I’d be interested to hear your views on which attribute you think is most important.

Being discerning involves standing one step back from your own personal preferences, choosing not necessarily what you like, but what’s significant in context. I think this is one of the least understood of all the curatorial roles, and together with the ability to make smart connections between objects, one of the most important. In being discerning, curators make complex decisions about what to acquire, and what the most appropriate juxtaposition of objects and ideas might be in displays. How often have I heard it assumed that a curator loves something simply because they’ve chosen it for display or acquisition? This simplistic view is offensive. Personal taste shouldn’t take precedence in curatorial work. Personal preference is one of the last emotions one brings to professional considerations when assessing, collecting or curating – not the first. Does a talented teacher look for learning tools that they like, or do they seek the most appropriate resource for the individual student’s learning needs or style?

Paradoxically, curating still requires a passion for objects, but in equal measure it involves a thirst for knowledge, an understanding of how things are made and how things work, and a willingness to share this knowledge, passion and understanding with others. It requires the ability to undertake complex research, and an understanding of people. Curators need to be able to communicate complex concepts and ideas succinctly and engagingly to colleagues and clients (including artists and designers) then help find strategies which communicate these concepts and ideas innovatively and coherently to diverse audiences.

Curating is complex

In 2006, I developed an exhibition for the 2006 Sydney Design Festival titled “In your face: contemporary graphic design”. I didn’t necessarily go about choosing contemporary work that I loved, nor only the work of Australia’s leading design studios. Rather, I decided to be more discerning – decided to select works which exemplified where graphic design was at that moment – when the boundaries between art and design were blurring, boutique multi-disciplinary design studios were springing up all around the inner-city, animation and motion graphics were becoming increasingly prevalent, tattoos were for everyone, handmade retro type was being generated in response to the impersonal domination of standardized computer-generated fonts, lomography slipped into advertising campaigns, and websites and mobile devices were capturing the imagination of illustrators and designer toy makers.

Josh Roelink case study in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition, 2006. Photo: Kojdanovski, Marinco.

Josh Roelink case study in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition, 2006. Photo: Kojdanovski, Marinco.

This approach wasn’t necessarily explained in the exhibition, it was purely a part of the curatorial process. 16 case studies were selected – some of the more esoteric, like Reg Mombassa’s Aussie Jesus or Josh Roelink’s tattoo designs, almost rejected. I fought to retain them all. With curatorial projects, uneasy inveigling is sometimes required to rationalise prioritizing, meaning, significance and aesthetics. Eventually 16 case studies remained – short TVCs, supersized graphics, comics, 3 minute mobile phone animations and tattoos alongside logo design, typefaces, book design, poster design, brand identity and way-finding.

Guests in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition (Qube Construkt and Voice case studies), Sydney Design Festival launch, August 2006.

Guests in the ‘In your face: contemporary graphic design’ exhibition (Qube Construkt and Voice case studies), Sydney Design Festival launch, August 2006. Photo: Prudence Upton.

The show’s diverse and surprising content was well received by Museum audiences, especially students and culturally active young adults (some coming with older parents and grandparents). It was perhaps slightly less well received (but in no way totally rejected) by traditional graphic design practitioners who may have expected a celebration of past professional practice. This too may have been valid, but not necessarily the best, or only, fit for the Museum’s Sydney Design audience. Similar debates arose around the Love Lace exhibition a few years later when it pushed the boundaries of lacemaking in preference to making an assessment of traditional practice. Curating is complex and it often involves making difficult decisions.

Love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially any misconceptions you have experienced around the role of the curator, or what you feel is the most significant attribute of a competent curator. Happy to answer questions.

Written by Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator, Design and Society

 

Upcycled – waste not, want not…

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Budget option ‘bush pantry’, improvised using an oil drum, kerosene tins and length of water pipe, unknown maker, about 1930. Powerhouse Museum collection. 92/305

Budget option ‘bush pantry’, improvised using an oil drum, kerosene tins and length of water pipe, unknown maker, about 1930. Powerhouse Museum collection. 92/305

A new display opens at the Powerhouse Museum this week titled ‘Upcycled’, a word coined by German engineer and upcycler, Reiner Pilz in 1994.

‘Recycling? I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.’ (Reiner Pilz: thinking about a green future, Salvo Monthly, No 23, October 1994, p14)

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Farewell to curator, Christina Sumner, OAM

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Christina Sumner, Principal Curator, Design & Society in the basement with textiles, including 92/775 Suzani (needlework), Collection: Powerhouse Museum

On the eve of of Christina Sumner’s departure we asked her a few questions about her experiences at the Museum over the last 28 years.


What have you enjoyed the most about working in the Museum?

Always always always it’s been the people and the collection. I’ve been lucky enough to spend every working day with curatorial and other colleagues who are bright, interested, articulate and as passionate as I am about the collection – building it, and committing ourselves to interpret, tell stories about and communicate the meaning of our objects to the wider community.

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Tribute to Harry Rogers: legendary Qantas poster designer

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Koala poster from Harry Rogers’ animated animal series of the 1960s 95/277/4 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Sadly, the Powerhouse Museum farewelled two more supporters this year – poster artist Harry Rogers (b. 20 November 1929 – d.19 May 2012) and his wife Valmai (Val) Rogers, who died on 23 November 2012. Harry and Val were married for almost 60 years. Both were artists. They met while studying at East Sydney Technical College in Darlinghurst (now the National Art School), married in 1953, then moved temporarily to California where Harry studied Animation as part of a Summer Theatre Arts and TV Production course at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). This love of animation is reflected in his poster designs like the one above.

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