Category Archives: Art

Sex and Museums: uncovering a tool of delight

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Packaging for sex toy 2008/60/1-3

Packaging for sex toy , object 2008/60/1-3

As part of the Ultimo Science Festival 2014, the Powerhouse Museum hosted a night of the Science of Sex. Along with talks form Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from University of Sydney, evolutionary biologist Professor Rob Brooks, and marine biologist Professor Emma Johnston from UNSW, Museum curators brought out a selection of sex related objects from the collection. Among them were the obstetric phantom, the birth control calculator, Madam Lash’s corset, and of course the electro massage device.

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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

 

International Museum Day – where musuem collections make connections

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Sculptural figures (4), 'Tahrir Square souvenirs', porcelain, made by Penny Byrne, Australia, 2011. Repurposed sculptural figures painted in red, black, yellow and green, the colours of the Egyptian flag. The three male and one female figures hold musical instruments featuring the corporate logo of the social networking site, Facebook.  2012/7/1

Sculptural figures (4), 2012/7/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Each year since 1977 International Museums Day (18 May) has celebrated and explored an aspect of Museum work. The multiple connections inherent in these figures make them ideal ambassadors for this year’s theme – ‘Museum collections make connections!

This group of porcelain ‘souvenirs’, re-purposed by Melbourne artist Penny Byrne from kitsch sentimental figurines, generically represent the intangible connectivity of Facebook, and the ability of social media to empower populations sufficiently enough to topple governments. More specifically these figures also connect us across the world to the political turmoil of the ‘Arab Spring’ events of 2011.

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Celebrating arts and crafts at the Sydney Royal Easter Show

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A6896-1 Sleeping Beauty Tableau, made by Rene Wilson, 1960 Collection:

A6896-1 Sleeping Beauty Tableau, made by Rene Wilson, 1960 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Sydney’s Royal Easter Show came from agricultural beginnings. In 1822 in a new and small colony the Royal Agricultural Society was formed with the intention of increasing livestock within the colony and sharing farming practices. The first show was held the following year in Parramatta.

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Henry Parkes and the ‘crimson thread of kinship’

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Powerhouse Museum Collection object A7335. Gift of Stanley Lipscombe, 1980.

Powerhouse Museum Collection object A7335. Gift of Stanley Lipscombe, 1980.

In a speech to a Federation Conference banquet in 1890, Henry Parkes coined the term crimson thread of kinship to describe the ties that bound the Australian colonies. The reference was to shared Anglo-Celtic bloodlines, to the exclusion of Indigenous, Asian and other contributors to nation-building and the nation’s gene pool. This statuette celebrates his stirring speech, which was to resonate at least until 1914, when the ‘crimson thread’ was used as a call to arms.

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Sydney Biennale artists Hadley+Maxwell are ‘busting’ open the Powerhouse Museum Collection…

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Hadley Howes pictured behind the bust of Queen Victoria, while the hands of  Maxwell Stephens  are shown applying cine foil to the bust. Image: Powerhouse Museum

Hadley Howes pictured behind the bust of Queen Victoria, while the hands of Maxwell Stephens are shown applying cinefoil to the bust. Image: Powerhouse Museum

Canadian artists Hadley+Maxwell are set to be onsite in the PHM Turbine Hall on Tuesday 11 March 2014 to take an impression of our marble bust of Queen Victoria (90/960 – from the Grace Bros Building Façade, c.1880-90, maker unknown). What’s bound to leave an impression is the way they are reverse-casting the marble bust with a black foil material called Cinefoil.
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Neons and museums

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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.
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