Hard edge: geometry in design

Ettore Sottsass
Memphis Milano – Memphis Group
Tahiti lamp 1981 Collection of the National Gallery of Australia
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Geometry has provided structure and a visual language to designers and makers for centuries. Geometric and mathematical principles have been interpreted by object makers in search of form since the advent of the industrial revolution of the 18th century, when their application to the standardisation of components and reliable mass-manufacturing methods made precision work achievable on a commercial scale. Design at this time drew upon the geometrical principles of the classical world and set in train new traditions of their appropriateness for architecture, furniture and smaller functional objects.

The central importance of geometry in modern design has shaped the design and construction of objects that we live with daily, from large buildings to the smallest components of jewellery. The exhibition, Hard edge: geometry in design, shows how geometry has been used by designers and makers of furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles and costume since the advent of the Modern movement of the late 19th century to the present. It draws from the Gallery’s extensive collection of Australian and international craft and design and has been selected to stimulate younger visitors, offering insights into the ways that designers have used geometry to extend their ideas and to link their work to the wider worlds of architecture and science.

The exhibition has a strong visual and three-dimensional presence, with a variety of works by 38 designers and craft artists. The exhibition includes some recent acquisitions of objects by Australian makers, along with others that have not been exhibited for at least a decade. They are displayed for maximum visual impact to allow younger visitors, at ease with visual complexity, to make connections between historical and contemporary works.

The objects are displayed in the Children’s Gallery, one of the most intimate and engaging exhibition spaces in the Gallery. They show aspects of the use of geometric design in design movements from the 1880s to the present, allowing visitors to find visual and conceptual connections between objects as diverse as cameras, dresses and chairs. An interactive ‘discovery wall’ in the exhibition will encourage children to find geometric shapes, not only in the objects displayed, but throughout the Gallery building and beyond, to the geometric layout that defines the city of Canberra.

The 1880s industrial design of Christopher Dresser provides visitors with an entry point to later objects reflecting 20th century design developments such as the Vienna Secession, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Art Deco, mid-century Modernism, Japanese fashion, Italian Memphis design, Post-modernism and current Australian craft and object design.

Hard Edge will encourage visitors to explore the complexity of twentieth century geometric design through objects such as a leaded-glass window designed in 1912 for the Avery Coonley Playhouse by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright; a 1995 pleated Minaret dress by the Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake; the famous Berlin Chair designed in 1923 by the Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld; a 1982 geometric Memphis teapot in the shape of a stylised rooster by the Italian designer Matteo Thun; an Art Deco Kodak camera from 1935; glass necklaces by the Australian jewellers, Blanche Tilden and Helen Aitken-Kuhnen and a pair of Italian platform shoes with gold pyramid heels by Philippe Model.

Robert Bell
Senior Curator
Decorative Arts and Design