Design

Frances Burke (1904–94) was the leading textile designer in Melbourne from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her modernist furnishing fabrics, preferred by architects, interior designers, department stores, and homemakers, were popular in domestic and commercial interiors, and her reputation was national. Her design skills were complemented by a good head for business and her command of all aspects of production, distribution, and marketing. The distinctive style of her textile designs is neatly summarised by the authors of this splendid volume: ‘ A single, bright colour and clean, simple linework printed on quality cotton or linen made Frances Burke’s designs modern in style, instantly identifiable and very appealing.’ Burke’s wide-ranging design sources included flora and fauna, indigenous and exotic themes, as illustrated in a selection of her titles: Canna Leaf, Tiger Lily, Seapiece, Totem, Rangga, Pacifica and Moresque.

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Amid all the hoopla surrounding the centenary in 2019 of the Bauhaus – naturally more pronounced in Germany – it is gratifying to see such a fine Australian publication dealing with the international influence of this short-lived, revolutionary art and design teaching institute. Bauhaus Diaspora and Beyond – written by Philip Goad, Ann Stephen, Andrew McNamara, Harriet Edquist, and Isabel Wünsche – explores the Bauhaus and its influence in Australia.

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The reconstruction of the built environment that followed World War II was central to the development of international design in the third quarter of the twentieth century. This is the background and context for Mid-Century Modern Complete, a large volume which covers design and architecture (mostly European and North American) from the 1940s to the early 197 ...

The Bard Graduate Center, long known for its ground-breaking studies in the decorative arts, has taken the ambitious leap of presenting a comprehensive history of decorative arts and design from 1400 to 2000, covering Asia, the Islamic world, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. (Coverage of Australia and Oceania is planned for future editions.) At over 700 pages, this is a most impressive achievement. For once, instead of being relegated to occasional paragraphs in major survey texts of art history, the decorative arts are presented centre stage. I wish it had been around when I was a student. Weber has assembled a team of scholars to cover this vast territory and it is not surprising to read that the book was almost ten years in the making. This volume does for the decorative arts what those standard university textbooks, Gardner’s Art through the Ages and Janson’s History of Art, did for the fine arts.

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This is an impressive publication, a massive tome with high gloss pages, beautifully designed with the highest production values, lavishly illustrated, with entries provided (on my count) by 229 separate contributors. This monumental collective effort makes a defining contribution to the study and documentation of architecture in this country, and to Australian architectural history. It is astonishing in its breadth, and gives us for the first time as near to a complete understanding of the trajectory of architectural ideas and practice in this country as is possible. Put simply, we have never before had so much information instantly available in a condensed form.

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The contemporary jewellery movement grew from a desire among postwar practitioners to explore both the expressive qualities in jewellery and the use of non-traditional materials. The move away from traditional gold and diamonds was partly economic – consider today’s price of gold – and partly ideological. Jewellery should be appreciated for what it is, on its own terms, not for its carats.

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Ours is not a visually literate culture – architects and designers are not the household names they are in countries such as Spain, nor is design understood or appreciated to any discernible degree – so it is always a particular pleasure when a publication appears that celebrates design. However, it is therefore also doubly important that such a publication should enliven or enlighten a public already so impervious to what design has to offer.

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