CHANG­ING TIMES

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

ldous Hux­ley’s dystopian novel Brave New World was pub­lished in 1932 in the depth of the De­pres­sion. It was banned al­most at once in Aus­tralia — Ire­land was the only other coun­try to sup­press its pub­li­ca­tion — ap­par­ently be­cause it was thought to pro­mote ir­re­li­gion and sex­ual promis­cu­ity. It was re­leased from the ban only in 1937.

Hux­ley’s novel imag­ines a ver­sion of Eng­land set 500 years in the fu­ture, when so­ci­ety will be or­gan­ised in a ruth­lessly func­tional way, os­ten­si­bly in the in­ter­ests of ef­fi­ciency and pub­lic well­be­ing. Ar­chaic dif­fer­ences of so­cial class, based on the ac­ci­dent of birth, have been long abol­ished and re­placed with a sci­en­tific breed­ing pro­gram. Hu­mans are raised in five cat­e­gories of abil­ity and in­tel­li­gence, so Al­phas pos­sess the in­tel­li­gence and ini­tia­tive to be lead­ers, while Be­tas are suited to mid­dle man­age­ment, Gam­mas merely carry out or­ders in an of­fice, and so on.

Hux­ley did not make up the words of his fa­mous ti­tle: they are, as read­ers no doubt know, an ironic bor­row­ing from Shake­speare’s The Tem­pest, where they al­ready bore a charge of irony. For they are spo­ken by Mi­randa, Pros­pero’s daugh­ter, who has never seen a man apart from her aged ma­gi­cian fa­ther, Ariel, Cal­iban and then Fer­di­nand: “Oh brave new world, that has such peo­ple in it!” (V.1.205-06). Pros­pero replies dryly, “’tis new to thee …”

Both the grim vi­sion of fu­ture dystopia and the orig­i­nal ref­er­ence to a new world of beauty and hu­man pos­si­bil­ity are rel­e­vant to the use of these words as the ti­tle of an ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to the art of the 1930s in Aus­tralia, even if the spe­cific in­spi­ra­tion for this bor­row­ing is a pho­tomon­tage by Max Du­pain, which it­self al­ludes to Hux­ley’s book. Brave New World, in­deed, takes the viewer on a jour­ney from de­light in a new vi­sion of hu­man­ity to the night­mare of the De­pres­sion

The ex­hi­bi­tion is ef­fec­tively de­signed, set­ting works in spa­ces in­ti­mate enough to ap- pre­ci­ate them, and clus­ter­ing items of dif­fer­ent na­tures or deal­ing with spe­cific themes so it is not dis­so­nant, for ex­am­ple, to put travel posters and other com­mer­cial ma­te­rial to­gether with paint­ings and sculp­tures.

The in­clu­sion of these ma­te­ri­als, as well as the work of less fa­mil­iar artists of the time, is part of a broader ap­proach, open­ing our field of vi­sion to the di­verse so­cial and cul­tural con­cerns of the time. The re­sult is re­fresh­ing and makes us re­alise how of­ten our view of the art of this pe­riod can be con­fined to a hand­ful of rel­a­tively tame mod­ernist painters and to their con­nec­tion to the worlds of mod­ern de­sign and in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion.

Here, Grace Coss­ing­ton Smith is prom­i­nent with what is prob­a­bly her most mem­o­rable im­age, The Bridge in-curve (1930), but the theme of the new Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge as a sym­bolic project and an af­fir­ma­tion of con­fi­dence that Aus­tralia would come through the De­pres­sion and pros­per again is sup­ported by pho­to­graphs and a poster in which the great

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