The New Look
2 A new exhibition of5()s decorative art threatens to bring doodledash and linoleum back into vogue. Miranda France investigates.
It 's nice that nylon raineoats
look .so lovely and feel so light.
Nice that they don '1 weather
orrol. . . or tear. . .
l I 's a nice day. all day.
Now that we've got nylon.
Whatever it was actually like at the time. life in the 50s is doomed now to be remembered in an innocent haze. As decades go. it has neither the austerity of the 40s. nor the rebellious cachet of the (70s. the decade that invented sex. It was the era epitotnised in Happy Days. the time when Elvis started tentatively to wiggle his pelvis. the decade that discoveredperspex.Tupperware and nylon. And it all made John Osborne very angry.
The opening quote. awkwardly extolling the niceness of nylon. is taken from an exhibition on 50s design which has been organised by Manchester (‘in Art Galleries. and is currently getting its only other airing at the Art Gallery and Museum. Kelvingrove. The thoroughness of the show is something to be marvelled at: curator Lesley Jackson spent three full years on it. and has produced an elaborate book on her subject. But I the size of it — there are some 400 objects — is daunting. There are quantities of jugs. vases and tea sets. hands-on melamine egg-cups and hands-offorganic bowls. In fact Jackson has approached her subject with such acumen that she i seems to have lost sight of some of the fun of it. a I particular drawback of the show being the exclusion ofindustrial design. With the exception , of a Vespa and an ()livetti typewriter. there are no j examples of the fridges. radios and toasters which i now make such popular themes for trendy postcards.
j But fridges and toasters aside. there is tnuch here j to amuse and inform. Jackson takes as her starting l l
point 1947. the year in which (‘hristian Dior created the New Look and became notorious: his extravagant use of materials. at a time when most goods were still rationed. thrilled and appalled in equal measure. When the French designer visited Chicago. he was greeted by an angry mob and placards saying ‘Burn Mr Diorl'.
1947 was also the year when Picasso turned his hand to ceramics and Jackson Pollock created his first large-scale abstract painting. Lesley Jackson‘s suggestion is that it marked a sea-change in aesthetics: it was not otin the beginning of an era . in which artists and designers enjoyed a unity of spirit. but ofa broadening public interest in the
g" _ . , 50 The List 14 - 27 February 1992
LISTINGS: GLASGOW 52 EDINBURGH 53
Christian Dior's New Look. 1947. sparked Oh a decade at innovative design
avant-garde. Thus she uses the term New Look. which is usually only associated with Dior. to describe changes in design across the board.
She makes some interesting. though not all-together convincing cases for this argument. A picture by Giacotnetti. famous for his tall. spindly sculptures. is shown alongside a tall. spindly [.eggerissima chair by (‘hiavariz there is a scarf designed by Henri Matisse and a segment of Eduardo l’aolozzi's ‘(‘oalface' furnishing fabric. Lucienne Day. one of the best-known designers of
' When the French designer visited Chicago,
he was greeted by an angry mob and placards saying ‘Burn Mr Dior!’
the day. is represented by a fabric which draws heavily on Miro and an example of doodledash curtain fabric looks as ifit might have had something to do with Jackson Pollock.
Certainly it is enlightening to see the 50s in this light. as a time when high art was mass-produced in the designs ofopen-minded textiles and ceramics companies. when design taboos were unceremoniously broken. Virginia Rigney. who is co-ordinating the exhibition in Glasgow describes the era as ‘diverse and refreshing. In the 20s and 30s. there was a strict credo of what design should be. In the 50s. designers didn‘t feel bound to
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART 0 EDINBURGH FRENCH INSTITUTE
' produce along specific guidelines and the manufacturers were prepared to go along with them. producing outrageous things. It really was a partnership.‘
There was an almost naive belief in power of science. hence the experiments with plastics. the amoeba-shaped tables and armchairs and the biological squiggles adorning carpets and curtains — the sort of thing you expect to find in a car-boot sale. I was taken by a set of photographs documenting a model 50s house in Lancashire. The house is a testament to its time — there is linoleum in the kitchen. doodledash in the sitting room and sortie organic-looking comfy chairs. You can't see it in the photographs but somewhere in that house. I feel sure. there must be a cupboard full of'l'upperware.
But the highlight of the show was following a couple ofsixtysornething women who examined every item with keen interest. ‘I remember those tea-sets.’ one was saying to another. ‘I got rid of mine years ago.‘ said the other. ‘I'd have kept them ifl‘d known.‘
The New Look: Design in the Fifties is at the Art Gallery and Museum. Kelvingrove. until 5 Apr.
The museum will host a 50s Roadshow on 22 Mar. 2-4pm. when members ofthe public are invited to bring their own 50s artefacts.
Lesley Jackson's book. of the same title. is
published by Thames and Hudson. at £14.95.