As a curator, when you develop an exhibition large or small, your heart and mind travels into this particular zone for quite some time. As the object list develops and you start to examine what is known about the objects, a case builds up for inclusion in the show. This has recently been the case for Being Modern, a small changing show about modernism within Nga Toi: Arts Te Papa.
Plischke and European modernism
Within the two previous shows, we considered modernism within the framework of immigrants or New Zealanders influenced by European modernism. Working from our collection, we were able to consider the work of the Viennese/NZ architect Ernst Plischke, Czechoslovakian born photographer Frank Hofmann, art by Milan Mrkusich and studio pottery by Len Castle.
Ernst Plischke’s architecture had the same spare approach as the Easy chair that he designed about 1949. Revealing the structure with a strong sense of horizontality were common features of both his furniture and architecture.
Crichton and Pan Pacific modernism
Within our most recent show, we wanted to consider decorative arts only. But how would we approach this? Could we consider design and technique or could we look at a group of designers whose work was prominent during the late 1940s and early 60s. And if this was the case, whose work would we chose? And once this was done, could we consider how modernism, the concept was transmitted to the public?
The designs of John Crichton seemed a good starting point. Crichton’s interior design business in Kitchener Street, Auckland attracted a strong clientele; the business was supported by promotion through local Home & Building magazine and the international decorative arts year book. Through careful acquisition Te Papa has slowly built this collection. A long and rather quirky patio chaise constructed from an iron frame supporting woven coloured plastic cane, had been acquired in 2009. Reflective of the American and Asian (Pan-Pacific) blend of modernism, the work also highlighted the growing status of outdoor furniture that signalled a collapse of the boundary between outdoor and indoor living.
Hand printed fabrics such as those by artist May Smith, offered at times more local interpretations for fabric design. Trained both in Auckland and London she block printed, a technique she taught writer and poet A.R.D Fairburn whose work is also in the show. Vibrant in colour, Smith’s motifs were based on the punga tree although quite abstracted as you can see below. Like Ernst Plischke, Smith and Fairburn sold their work through the Helen Hitchings Gallery, in Wellington that opened its doors between 1949 and 1950. Helen’s commitment to and vision about ‘good domestic design’ has ensured her legendary status in New Zealand.
Completing the new group, we looked at Frank Carpay, who through Crown Lynn Potteries brought a painterly aspect to ceramic decoration. His bold and flat decorations were heralded by architect Vernon Brown and sold through art societies and department stores including Wellington’s James Smiths.
All three designers whose work I have shown, considered pattern and texture in different ways. We have more work than the examples above but come and visit Being Modern, one of twelve exhibitions in Nga Toi, Arts Te Papa.