Te Papa’s Modern Living exhibition explores New Zealand’s unique design history

Te Papa’s Toi Art presents Modern Living: Design in 1950s New Zealand | Te Noho Hou: Te hoahoa i Aotearoa i ngā tau 1950. The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday 22 August and runs until May 2021.

Modern Living focuses on a 1950s exhibition called Art and Design which was held in Auckland, and conveyed the idea of modern living to New Zealand.

The 1952 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 the ground-breaking Auckland exhibition, and an exciting era of design in Aotearoa.

The exhibition includes local and international furniture, pottery, textiles, photographs lighting, art and architectural drawings.

Works such as Frances Hodgkins’ 1938 print Arrangement of jugs, Frank Hofmann’s photograph of the 1952 Art and Design exhibition, and John Crichton’s Safari chair will be on display.

Te Papa Decorative Arts & Design Curator Justine Olsen says Modern Living is both a global and a local story about responding to the devastation of world wars and economic depression, through design for a more equal, peaceful, and healthier world.

“The exhibition messages are extremely relevant today when we are faced with a huge shortage of public and affordable housing, the challenges of creating a more sustainable world in response to climate change, and the need to develop solutions for smart and economical living at a time of a global pandemic,” she says.

Modernist artists and designers in the 1950s introduced recognisable symbols of Aotearoa into their work: Māori art and mythology, native flora and fauna, and local materials like clay and wood. In this way, they claimed New Zealand’s position as a unique, modern, and progressive nation.

Te Papa will be hosting a series of public programmes alongside the exhibition. The events will look at local contemporary design, explore post-Covid-19 and election-year issues, celebrate young people as energetic change-makers, and show potential study and career pathways related to design and architecture.

Ms Olsen says the 1950s exhibition is a starting point for Te Papa to reflect on the growing importance of design during a very formative period in New Zealand.

“The 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. Good, affordable design was seen as key to society’s transformation,” she says.

Additional curator talks and sensory tours for low-vision and blind visitors will run throughout the course of the exhibition.


About the 1952 Art and Design exhibition

The exhibition was organised by the Adult Education Centre and developed by an influential group of young architects. It promoted good design to the public.

The 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.

Art and Design presented works by New Zealanders alongside international examples. The show’s image of a new, modern way of living was shaped by projects and ideas from other parts of the world. Local practitioners discovered these ideas through European immigrants, by reading international books and journals, and by training and working overseas.

It endeavoured to demonstrate how New Zealanders could live with good design and manufacture, within a domestic environment of sustainable materials and local architecture.

Frank Hofmann, Art and Design exhibition, 1952, black and white negative. Gift of the Frank Hofmann Estate, 2016. Image restored by Jeremy Glyde. Te Papa (B.078102)

Media contact

Ellie Campbell, Senior Communications Adviser, Te Papa
029 601 0120