William Street, Sydney about 1968. Photo by David Mist, Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of David Mist.
A few years back I was interviewed about the fate of Sydney’s neon advertising signs:
‘The great age of neon has passed,’ laments Charles Pickett, a curator of design and society at the Powerhouse Museum, an institution that houses the AWA sign that once sat atop the eponymous1930s skyscraper, and a red neon greyhound removed recently from Wentworth Park Raceway. ‘The days of William Street being a gallery for neon are long gone. The Coca-Cola sign is all that’s left.’
Since then we’ve added the Sharpies Golf House sign to the Powerhouse collection, another of many well-known neons to disappear from Sydney nights (there’ll be an article about the Sharpies sign in the next issue of Powerline). The decline of neon as a marketing and visual medium is partly one of advertising fashion and technological change – LED signs are cheaper, less fragile and use much less electricity than neons.
Poker machine (detail), Queen of the Nile, Mark 1, designed and made by Aristocrat Technologies, 1997-2006. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Aristocrat Technologies Australia, 2006.
I read some good news recently – the number of poker machines in NSW pubs has reduced by 2675 in the past two years. More pubs are giving pokies the flick.
I’m interested in this for a couple of reasons: The Powerhouse holds what is probably the only collection of poker machines in a major Australian museum. And we hold a huge collection of photos, architectural drawings and other artefacts relating to pubs. Perhaps more than that I’m fond of pubs, less so of pokies.
Opening day at Roselands, 1965. Australian Women’s Weekly, 27 October 1965, Powerhouse Museum Library.
A groovy shopping mall is a contradiction in terms for many people. Yet that is what has just opened at the Central Park development on Sydney’s Broadway. As malls go the new one is small but it’s illuminated from above by a Jean Nouvel-designed heliostat and according to the Herald, has the personality of ‘a well-dressed hipster with a short attention span’.
Screen by Steven Kalmar, Sydney, c1955. Coffee table by Douglas Snelling and made by Functional Products Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1955. Settee, ‘RS161’ designed by Grant Featherston, Melbourne, c1951.
If you’re a fan of mid-century modern furniture, the Powerhouse Museum’s current display is a must-see. 7 Australian Designers profiles a number of Australia’s celebrated modernists and includes iconic furniture by Grant Featherston, Gordon Andrews, Douglas Snelling, Clement Meadmore and Steven Kalmar.
Model, Aquatic Centre for the Asian Games, Bangkok, Philip Cox/Cox Architects, 1995. Powerhouse Museum collection.
The architect Philip Cox recently told us what we already knew: Star casino in Pyrmont is by far his worst building. Needless to say a Star flack was immediately reassuring the media that almost none of Cox’s 1997 design had survived the casino’s recent renovations. Whether the casino genre is a likely inspiration for good architecture need not concern us here – for his part Cox declared casinos a toxic genre and wished he’d never designed one.
Photo by Max Dupain 1966, Powerhouse Museum collection. Courtesy Max Dupain & Associates.
We’ve just installed a small exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of Sydney Opera House on 20 October. The anniversary, by the way, is of the official 1973 opening by the Queen, not the first public performance there on the 28 September 1973, an interesting choice of dates.
Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas, 1966. Copyright VenturiScottBrown.
You might have been following the controversy about Denise Scott Brown and the Pritzker Prize. In 1991 Scott Brown’s husband and professional partner Robert Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Prize (often described as architecture’s Nobel Prize). Scott Brown was not, although it was widely recognised that she was Venturi’s equal creative partner. She did not attend her husband’s award ceremony while Venturi appealed to the Pritzker jury to co-award his wife. No deal, on the grounds that Pritzkers are only awarded to individuals, not partnerships. Continue reading
Danny De Vito, Richard Dreyfus and Cadillacs in Tin Men, 1987. Copyright Allmovies.com
Re-skinning of buildings takes several forms, not all of them particularly reputable. During the 60s and 70s salesmen prowled the suburbs, seeking out fibro and weatherboard cottages that could be re-clad with aluminium or vinyl. The hard sell would then begin, with promises of capital gains, improved appearance and insulation. I’m not sure that many houses were actually improved, especially as the new cladding was usually screwed on over the existing one.
This business was immortalized in a popular US movie of the 1980s: Tin Men was both satirical and nostalgic about two competing aluminium cladding (‘siding’ in US lingo) salesmen, played by Danny De Vito and Richard Dreyfus.
Marseille: Museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations (left) and Villa Mediterranean. Photo by Charles Pickett, 2013.
I’ve been holidaying in Europe recently; mainly Italy and Greece, but we also managed a day in Marseille.
France’s oldest and second-largest city is European City of Culture for 2013 so there is even more to see than usual. Focusing on Marseille as a cultural address is partly an attempt to stop the city being bracketed with the likes of Naples and Chicago: capitals of crime, corruption, poverty and drug gangs. There’s reality behind the negative image but it also reflects the long-standing rivalry between Paris and Marseille and resulting urban caricatures.
Cover, The Home, 1 November 1933, artwork by Eileen Gray. Powerhouse Museum collection.
A couple of month’s back I was contacted by a Daily Telegraph journo, doing a story about Sydney’s ‘Gatsby-style’ mansions. Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby had just hit the screens and the media was searching for evidence that 1920s Sydney had glamour to match that of New York.