This month, we here in Brisbane are being spoilt for art-viewing choice, with world-class exhibitions concurrently showing at QueenslandArtGallery, GoMA, Queensland Museum, and even the Museum of Brisbane. I’m still yet to see the Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures exhibition at the Qld Museum, but recently I was happy-as-larry to visit all three of the other venues in a single day.
Lucky me - my ever-lovely creative friend, Dudley Redhead, was visiting from interstate with her extra lovely family, and their timing was perfect. A full day of dedicated gallery-hopping and art-viewing was planned.
First-up was the California Design exhibition at QAG, which was every bit as visually stimulating as all those sneak peaks on Instagram led me to believe. Beautifully curated, it covers a broad spectrum of industrial, architectural, commercial, fashion and craft design from California from 1930-1965. All the old favourites are featured (C & R Eames, I’m looking at you), but plenty of new examples to titillate and inspire.
Visiting a gallery with a (wide awake) baby is sadly not conducive to deep and analytical reading of the literature accompanying the exhibits, but none-the-less I could still appreciate the eye candy on the surface of things… the colours and compositions in the array of retro graphics lining the walls, the textures and shapes of the furniture and fabrics, the materials and minute detail of sculptural jewellery. I love love love being immersed in this multitude of designly artifacts, and vividly imagining the style of living in that rose-tinted period of American culture. It was an era rich in possibility and dreams for the future, and I can understand why even in today’s modern age, it’s still an aesthetic that resonates so strongly.
There were a number of items in California Design that really made my heart flutter, and fortunately even busy mothers can manage some night-time Googling to do some further research online. Which is how I discovered that these amazingly gorgeous Christmas gift boxes were created in the 60s for the department store Joseph Magnin & Co by San Fransisco-based illustrator/designer/artist Joe Allen Hong.
And wow, wasn't the 1960s just the most amazing era for illustration / packaging / department stores!? I could have followed that wonderful thread of research for many, many, many more hours...
1960s dressmaking patterns are just the best! Mental note: I might have to look into my collection of sewing patterns and see if there's any cute little dresses/skirts in there that I could make...
And contemporary fashion illustration is equally as inspiring - this work is by French illustrator Sophie Griotto, spotted on the blog Fashionary in the article '30 fashion illustrators you can't miss'. I love that it can look thoroughly modern and nostalgicly retro both at the same time.
And perhaps this is the crux of the paradox behind the California Design exhibition - that half a century on, it is still thoroughly modern (you can today buy most of the design icons featured, even if they are just "repro") and yet also fabulously and nostalgicly retro!!! Design that is perfectly of its post-war era in history, but also timelessly classic. And all of it charged with the bittersweet glow of nostalgia...
Which brings me to my next heart-fluttery find in a far corner of the exhibition - the 1960s Barbie Dream Home!...
A delightful fold-out cardboard design - I do wonder how ANY of these sweet playthings managed to survive in such mint condition 50+ years on (doubt any little girl ever played with this specimen!).
As a child of the 80s, and the proud owner of a huge handcrafted red-cedar dollhouse I was given as a toddler (and still have in storage in the garage 35 years later), I spent many hours of my childhood playing with Barbie dolls, and yet I have never been more than vaguely aware of Barbie's rich heritage!
Reading the Barbie entry on Wikipedia is fascinating stuff. Who knew that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second!? And, oh my, what a controversial little doll she is - her figure, her lifestyle, her lacks as a role model for little girls...
But what a gorgeous array of vintage design has been produced in her honour over the last half-century!...all those outfits and accessories and vehicles and houses, not to mention the plethora of illustration, packaging and advertising that has gone into Barbie's marketing. What a legacy.
All those delicious visuals...Yet another thread of research and reading that I could have followed for hours!
But let's move on and wrap up this exhibition overview with a funny pic of what the Dudley Redheads look like when they're on holiday. Say, "Eeeeeeeammmmmmes"..!
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Which brings us to Brisbane's other incredible exhibition of the day, Falling Back to Earth, the solo exhibition by the incredible Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
I've been fortunate to visit this exhibition twice now, firstly with Ms Redhead, and more recently with my own family. Despite being really keen for my toddler son to see all the life-size animals, I was a bit disappointed that he didn't show as much interest in the epic display as I thought he might. Big pool of water... Animals... Meh. A roomful of flying wolves smashing into a glass wall... Meh. A gigantic eucalyptus tree lying prone across the gallery atrium... A little bit more interest! I think it was the novelty of "sketching" the tree on a clipboarded piece of drawing paper, just like mummy, that did the trick! Funny kid.
On the upside, we had a lovely time in the Kids' Art Centre, constructing a little paper boat together. Anything involving a sticky-tape dispenser usually garners D's attention for at least a few minutes. Riley was more concerned with 'eating' the paper and paddlepop sticks, but at least it kept him occupied long enough for me to help D with his boat.
And I'll admit to feeling a real sense of joy and artistic freedom doing my five-minute sketch of the eucalyptus tree. I didn't over-think it (actually, I didn't 'think' it at all), I just put pencil to paper, and let loose with the sketch. My five-minute time limit was superficially imposed by the wriggling and whining of the pram-bound baby next to me, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity at all. I think this is the universe's way of telling me that I should stretch myself to draw more often. A couple of tiny sketches a week could be manageable, yes?
But back to the Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition...
While it is essentially only 3 (massive) exhibits, each one is so epic and awe-inspiring that it well warrants the $15 entry fee (or $20 for both this and the California Design exhibition together), and I was really happy to have my family along to see it too. I am so impressed that Brisbane has really stepped up to the cultural benchmarks of other world-cities - this truly is a world-class exhibition, and it demonstrates just how much Brisbane has matured in the last few years/decades. Lucky, lucky Brisbanites :)
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And finally, we concluded our day of gallery-hopping with an afternoon visit to the newly refurbed Museum of Brisbane, stopping briefy to grab a cake and coffee at the Shingle Inn (reconstructed in the foyer level of City Hall) before heading upstairs to see the exhibitions.
I am a big fan of the Museum of Brisbane, and its most recent reincarnation is meticulously designed and detailed, and a true delight to wander through. I particularly love the clever use of light and space throughout, the surprisingly elegant window-view of the building's huge dome, and the wonderful array of patterns and textures used throughout the interior design fitout. And the top-notch exhibition/graphic design is impressive too.
Currently the MoB is showcasing four separate exhibitions: The River: a history of Brisbane; Light Fantastic: Expo 88 parades rewired; Silver; and Stephen Hart: Fellow Humans.
(to be continued...)