Even to a British Columbian born and bred, the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition Modern in the Making: Post-war Craft and Design comes as a big revelation, for the depth and breadth of modernist design from the late 1940s to the early 1960s on show here.
Curated by VAG interim director Daina Augaitis, guest curator Allan Collier
and associate curator Stephanie Rebick, this exhibition is a well integrated assemblage of 300 items including furniture, ceramics, fashion, textiles and jewelry by a long list of makers from Barbara Baanders to Chuck Yip, including West Coast indigenous artists such as Haida carver Robert Davidson and Nuu-chah-nulth weaver Nellie Jacobson.
Like most VAG shows, this one is very viewer-friendly. The curators have built a context for the works on display, citing international timelines and defining trends such as pop art or abstraction that link these BC artists and designers and show how much of their time they were.
Near the beginning of the exhibition is an elegantly tailored day suit in deep green wool gabardine made by Madame Julia Visgak in Vancouver in 1949. Nearby is a 1946 armchair made of moulded plywood, by Mouldcraft Plywoods in North Vancouver. Both pieces exemplify a force that was driving new design and manufacture at the time: post-war reconstruction.
The show’s many examples of pottery, furniture, clothing and decor from the 1950s and 1960s remind us of far-reaching influences such as Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus Manifesto of 1919. “Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts,” he stated. A stylish clock radio sits on a block surrounded by ceramics of the time. The objects all seems to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle — the Cowichan Indian sweater, the Kwagulth masks and a glass-topped, steel-framed coffee table appear at home together, as they are all expressions of modernist art and design.
Doris Shadbolt, a curator and art critic, is celebrated here as an artist. Her 1950s silver jewelry, inspired by the same African imagery that prompted European movements such as Cubism, are exemplified in two brooches and a pendant, labelled “Human-form”.
Wayne Ngan, the Hornby Island artist who died earlier this year, earns his place in a group display of 1960s and 1970s ceramic by Jan Grove, Gathie Falk, Stanley Clark, Robert Weghtsteen and Jean Marie Weakland, with a raku pot using an old salt glaze.
Modern in the Making is a show that rewards leisurely viewing. Where else are you likely to see how Dzunuk’wa dishes from a Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch and Evelyn Roth’s crocheted Video Armour could have been created in the same region in the same time period?
From top left: Evelyn Roth in Video Armour, 1972; Doris Shadbolt, silver Human-form Pendant, 1955; unknown Nuu-chah-nulth weaver, Ucluelet basket, 1944; Helmut Krutz, fold-down couch, c. 1955
Modern in the Making runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until January 3, 2021