About the exhibition
Inspired! uncovers the ways in which designers, makers, industries and entrepreneurs interact to make extraordinary objects. It reveals the passion of creators, the power of objects and the pleasure they give people who use and treasure them. Inspired! explores concepts such as beauty and function, style and substance, tradition and innovation. It shows how changing values and attitudes influence design and shape our taste and imagination. We seek the new while exploring the past, strive for the personal while enjoying the popular and value the handmade beside the mass-produced.
A selection of objects from the exhibition (from our collection database)
Inspired! gallery video flythrough (QuickTime 16,869kb)
Going global: design and the marketplace
1960s to now
The radical social, cultural and technological changes of the 1960s ushered in a new era of design. Plastics, a young consumer market and the emergence of creative new manufacturing industries, particularly in Italy, dramatically changed the ‘look’ and popularity of design.
Since the 1980s, design has become a global phenomenon. Top international designers enjoy the status of superstars, and design — from furniture to fashion to homewares — is successfully marketed through a range of widely promoted signatures, brands and labels.
New technologies are constantly explored and global communications and distribution have effectively dissolved national design boundaries. Australia has been part of this international design revolution, nurturing many young designers who have gone on to establish successfulnational and international careers.
Mark of the maker: the crafts revival
1940s to now
The crafts revival is a strong contemporary movement that started as a rejection of what was seen as the impersonal nature of industrial modernism. Craftspeople preferred an independent way of life making handmade objects from natural materials.
From the 1940s they developed an enthusiastic market of those who wanted to use and enjoy objects that showed the mark of the maker. Their effective organisations and networks influenced the establishment of new education courses and galleries, and encouraged travel and exchange.
Today craftspeople, artists or designermakers continue to create objects through working skilfully and directly with their materials. They explore a range of cultural and historical traditions to develop their own ideas in new contexts and enjoy national and international reputations for their work. Many embrace new technologies and processes alongside the old and collaborate in different ways to make their work.
New century, new look: 1900s to 1950s
Intersected by the devastating upheaval of two world wars, the first half of the 20th century saw far reaching changes to the way people lived.
A machine aesthetic, improved communications and the dream of a classless society inspired new ideas about being ‘modern’. Modernism, in its many forms, became the defining international design concept of the period.
Pre-World War I functional modernism focused on geometric shapes, new industrial materials and primary or neutral colours. Richly-coloured objects and dress designed in the inter-war Art Deco style drew on Cubism and ‘exotic’ cultures. By the 1950s, modernism had reinvented itself through a return to nature as a source of inspiration in Scandinavian and Italian design.
Often mass produced but also handmade, by mid-century an impressive range of modernist furniture, ceramics and other decorative articles defined the contemporary interior. After World War II, the launch in Paris of Christian Dior’s New Look collection in 1947 re-established the city as the world’s fashion capital.
Australia: adapting to a new world
From 1788, what Australians wore and how they chose to furnish their homes reflected both their resourcefulness
in a new land and the decorative styles and social influences of Britain and Europe.
Skilled silversmiths, potters and furniture makers soon established workshops and industries.
They adapted known technologies to accommodate new materials and the challenges of isolation. Many used Australian motifs of flora and fauna as an expression of their identity in this new place. Significant patrons commissioned objects for their homes or to commemorate important events.
Wealth created by the gold rushes increased opportunities and demands, and displays in large international exhibitions demonstrated Australia's growing skills and resources.
Design in the industrial age: the 19th century
A fast-growing urban population created unprecedented demand for domestic and luxury articles in a Europe transformed by the industrial revolution. Fashionable clothes, new tableware and furnishings signalled individual taste and ensured ‘respectability’.
Factory production and continuing technical advances enabled manufacturers to offer an impressive range of goods for every pocket. Major firms, and even countries, competed with each other through ever-changing designs and novel materials that were shown off in international exhibitions.
The design of decorative objects was largely inspired by past styles and ‘exotic’ cultures. History and rich ornament were admired. Reacting to the excesses of these revivalist styles, in the late 1800s the British Arts and Crafts movement, Aestheticism and French-born Art Nouveau provided new points of reference and guided fashionable living. Some of their ideas anticipated modernism of the next century.
Age of Enlightenment: the 18th century
The 18th century was a time of great change: old beliefs and superstitions gave way to modern science and ideas based on observation, experiment and reason.
From classifying plants to collecting antiquities, researchers in all fields published their findings, inspiring artists, designers and the eager-to-learn general public. The century also shaped two contrasting art styles — playful Rococo and calm Neoclassicism — and gave birth to Europe’s first modern consumer societies. With the advent of factory production and increasing prosperity across all levels of society, many more people could afford new clothes, tableware and household articles.
Royalty and the aristocracy financed the manufacture of the finest objects, textiles and fabrics. In Britain, artists, craftspeople and industrial entrepreneurs, as well as noble patrons, fostered luxury industries such as those of porcelain and silver.