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Black and white photo of two children playing on the floor of a large room with a view of other houses and the harbour

Modern Living: Design in 1950s New Zealand Te Noho Hou: Te Hoahoa ki Aotearoa i ngā tau 1950

The 1952 Auckland exhibition Art and Design introduced New Zealanders to a vision for a more equal, happier way of life that grew from the devastation of World War II. Modern Living offers a lens into this ground-breaking exhibition, and an exciting era of new design in Aotearoa.

  • When | Āhea 22 Aug 2020 – 26 Apr 2021
  • Where | Ki hea Toi Art, Level 4
  • Accessibility | E wātea ana ki
    • Wheelchair accessible
    • Accessible toilet
    • Large print labels available at gallery entrance

A vision for a more equal, happier way of life grew from the devastation of World War II. Good, affordable design was seen as key to society’s transformation and a growing sense of national identity was emerging in 1940s and 50s New Zealand.

In 1952, Auckland’s Art and Design exhibition aimed to attract as large an audience as possible, showing the public that modern art and design were available, affordable, and often made in New Zealand. Through local and international furniture, ceramics, and art, the exhibition explored new ways of making, new use of materials, and new architectural ideas.

Modernist artists and designers introduced recognisable symbols of Aotearoa into their work: Māori art and mythology, native flora and fauna, and local materials like clay and wood, they claimed New Zealand’s position as a unique, modern, and progressive nation.

Read On the necessity for architecture, the manifesto of the Architectural Group, 1946

Tubular lamp: industrial design in the home

Made from exposed tubular steel, John Crichton’s lamp brought industrial materials and processes into the domestic interior and would have seemed radical in 1950s New Zealand. By exposing materials in this dramatic way, Crichton celebrated a new age of affordable industrial design for the home.

For Modern Living, Te Papa recreated it using historic photographs, as Curator Decorative Arts & Design Justine Olsen describes here:

‘Experiment in Housing’ archive footage

Group Architects build their Second House at Takapuna, and visitors look at the completed First House:

Excerpt from ‘Experiment in Housing’, Weekly Review 455 1950, National Film Unit (1941–89), New Zealand. Digitised footage courtesy of Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Exhibition highlights Taonga whakaatu

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