Van­cou­ver Art Gallery ex­hi­bi­tion tells the unique history of B.C.

Mod­ern in the Mak­ing: Post-war Craft and De­sign in Bri­tish Columbia con­veys sto­ries of post-war life found wo­ven into mod­ernist de­signs


With B.C. res­i­dents va­ca­tion­ing closer to home this sum­mer, it’s the per­fect time to learn more about the prov­ince’s unique history. A new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing en­try point into B.C.’S past through the sto­ries of rare ob­jects: post-war mod­ernist de­signs.

Mod­ern in the Mak­ing: Post­war Craft and De­sign in Bri­tish Columbia fea­tures more than 300 items by 134 artists, in­clud­ing jew­ellery, weav­ings, tex­tiles and fur­ni­ture. Cov­er­ing a 30-year pe­riod from 1945, the ex­hi­bi­tion takes an in­clu­sive look at the de­sign trends that shaped the era.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion is quite timely for its sense of ma­te­ri­al­ity and mak­ing,” says Daina Au­gaitis, in­terim di­rec­tor of the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery. “Dur­ing the pan­demic, peo­ple have been re­turn­ing to prac­tices like bread-mak­ing, sewing and look­ing at one’s liv­ing space. There’s an in­creased con­scious­ness about the ob­jects in our lives, the mean­ings they hold and the plea­sure they bring us.”

Many of the de­signs use ma­te­ri­als that were abun­dant af­ter the end of World War II. Bent ply­wood, once used for war­plane man­u­fac­tur­ing, was adapted into a ready re­source for fur­ni­ture. The ex­hi­bi­tion traces a tra­jec­tory from the highly func­tional pieces of the 1950s to the rad­i­cal, eclec­tic stylings of the 1970s.

The mid-cen­tury mod­ern aes­thetic feels sur­pris­ingly con­tem­po­rary, as the min­i­mal­ist and ab­stract tenets of the pe­riod have be­come pop­u­lar once more. Most of the items come from sto­ried prove­nance: co-cu­ra­tor Al­lan Collier saved an item from be­ing thrown out, as the owner didn’t know what to do with the piece. Other ob­jects in the ex­hi­bi­tion were found by hap­pen­stance: a con­ver­sa­tion with a jew­eller led to a pre­vi­ously un­known col­lec­tion of jew­ellery by in­flu­en­tial cu­ra­tor Doris Shad­bolt.

Vis­i­tors may rec­og­nize other lo­cal artists in the ex­hi­bi­tion, such as ar­chi­tect Peter Cotton and Hol­ly­wood swim­suit de­signer Rose Marie Reid — but also pot­ter Wayne Ngan and famed Haida artist Bill Reid.

“The West Coast re­ceived in­flu­ences from a lot of dif­fer­ent places in the world,” says Au­gaitis. “Modernism from Europe, the Amer­i­can aes­thetic from draft dodgers, val­ues from Asia — and of course the In­dige­nous peo­ples, the very foun­da­tion of cul­ture in B.C. This ex­hi­bi­tion is one of the very first in Canada to in­clude Indi­gene­ity in a sur­vey of the mod­ern move­ment.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion opens with a bas­ket by Nuu-chah-nulth weaver Nel­lie Ja­cob­son and fea­tures works by oth­ers who helped re­vi­tal­ize In­dige­nous cul­ture af­ter the pot­latch ban was lifted in 1951 — in­clud­ing Ellen Neel, the first fe­male Kwak­wakaðwakw carver.

Lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences are seen co­a­lesc­ing in stun­ning de­signs wo­ven into bas­kets, en­graved into met­al­work, and threaded into tex­tiles made by In­dige­nous and non-in­dige­nous cre­ators alike.

“The post-war pe­riod saw a lot of cre­ative cross-pol­li­na­tion. It was an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary mo­ment, when peo­ple shared not only their method­olo­gies but also a col­lec­tive op­ti­mism about the fu­ture. There was ex­cite­ment about in­no­va­tion and this ex­hi­bi­tion cap­tures the time­less­ness of B.C. de­signs.”

Visit va­nart­ to learn more. Mod­ern in the Mak­ing: Post-war Craft and De­sign in Bri­tish Columbia runs through Jan­uary 3, 2021. The ex­hi­bi­tion catalogue, fea­tur­ing es­says by Michelle Mc­geough, Michael J. Prokopow, Al­lan Collier and more, is now avail­able at the Gallery Store.

Joanna Staniszkis, Un­ti­tled, 1975 wool, cotton, feath­ers. Col­lec­tion of the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery, Gift of Au­drey and Ger­ald Clarke

Hans-chris­tian Behm, Van­cou­ver Chair, 1969, alu­minum, tex­tile, foam, paint, braided rope, Courtesy of the Artist

Doris Shad­bolt, Hu­man-form Pen­dant, 1955, sil­ver. Col­lec­tion of Alice Philips

Wayne Ngan, Raku Pot, c. 1970s, ce­ramic. Col­lec­tion of John David Lawrence

Earle A. Mor­ri­son and Robin Bush for Earle A. Mor­ri­son Ltd., Vic­to­ria, BC, Air­foam Lounge Chair (#141), 1951 steel rod, ply­wood, wal­nut, up­hol­stery Col­lec­tion of Al­lan Collier

Mary Chang Dress, 1963–68, cotton, Ivan Say­ers Col­lec­tion

Robert David­son, Xi­igya [Bracelet], 1972, sil­ver Courtesy of the Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy, The Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, Van­cou­ver, Canada

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