California Design at the Queensland Art Gallery is an exhibition touring from – yes, indeed – California, specifically from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It covers the period 1930 to 1965 when creativity across the board flourished and found one of its homes on the United States’ west coast. (This is part 1 of two galleries – so check out Part 2, too!
Coincidentally, or not, this was also a period of international upheaval, hosting the Great Depression, World War Two, the Korean War, and the early years of the Vietnam War, not to mention the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the ascent of Mao Zedong, and so much else it would make our heads spin even more than usual to attempt documentation.
Add to the mix decades of increasingly radical cultural change, the post-War baby boom, the economic boom after the Depression and wartime scarcity and rationing, and the development of the atomic bomb which ended World War Two in the most horrific way, and then hung around to so generously give us the Cold War and the Atomic Age.
This tiny history essay is by way of saying that California Design reflects all of these elements and more and more, though in a very spare and minimalist way.
The exhibition space is open and light, full of nothing and everything, and as the brochure says, “introduces Australian audiences to the industrial, architectural, commercial, fashion and craft design of mid-century California, through works that defined the era and are still admired today.”
You’ll see plywood, fibreglass, resin, textiles, precious metals and stones, ceramics, aluminium, wood and wire mesh, turned into works of art by designers and artists like Ray and Charles Eames, Henry Dreyfuss, Dorothy Wright Liebes, Raymond Loewy, Levi Strauss and Mattel.
And yes, there’s one of the famous Eames lounge chairs (with Ottoman), ready for you to test and enjoy – believe me when I say that it’s one of the most comfortable lounge chairs you’ll ever rest your weary frame upon. The plywood Eames chair isn’t too shabby, either, and you don’t even have to go into the exhibition to try that out – there are several of them in the foyer, along with the 1936 Airstream Clipper and a 1964 Studebaker Avanti automobile.
It’s a particular kind of exhibition and may not be to everyone’s taste, but the gang at City of Images felt right at home (even though we only had our Panasonic Lumix with us and flash was banned). Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to disassemble the Eames lounge chair and bring it home in our backpacks, but we managed a lovely lunch at the QAG Cafe, decorated especially to complement the California Design theme. And the additional and loveliest bonus of all was running into our dear friends, author Estelle Pinney, and her daughter, Stella, who were also there to lap up some California dreaming.
The exhibition is highly recommended, and the pop-up shop is worth a visit. There are quite a few inexpensive items available, and if you’re wealthy, the Brisbane, and California skies are the limit. This is Gallery 1.
See also Part 2