Written by Emma Eagle
Photographed by Dan Eagle
Auckland’s Mr Bigglesworthy and Hamilton’s Weasel Gallery team up to exhibit rare and collectable works of New Zealand modern design.
New Zealand may be a small Pacific Island but that has never stopped the people who live here from achieving greatness at an international level. Our country was nowhere near the epicentre of European modernism but that couldn’t stop a small number of talented makers, designers and back-yard tinkerers from creating highly progressive and memorable work that stands out and remains relevant today.
Since 2017, the team at Mr. Bigglesworthy have curated a thoughtful, annual collection of rare and coveted New Zealand design. This has become a regular feature on the calendar for the team at Mr. Bigglesworthy. With the changing mix of objects, the concept and presentation is reconsidered each year to enable experimentation.
For the New Zealand Modern Collection of 2020, Mr. Bigglesworthy collaborate with Weasel Gallery, run by Laree Payne. The concept images and exhibition include two artists, Rachel Hope Peary and Chauncey Flay. Both artists approach their practice with a focus on materiality, form, clean lines and with a keen sculptural sensibility — a natural fit with modernist design pieces.
This collaborative approach follows a thread which has been evident from Mr. Bigglesworthy since the opening of the store in 2011 with a series installations and works on show by artists and emerging designers. Dan and Emma Eagle are keen to pursue this direction in conjunction with the more established design store offering.
The New Zealand Modern Collection of 2020 showcases a specifically Pan-pacific interpretation of the ideas of modernism. Ground-breaking work focused on honest, functional forms devoid of superfluous decoration.
As Garth Chester’s first entry into furniture design, the Curvesse Chair demonstrates a pure, clean form and expressive intention through the sculptural design. He boasted of the speed of production using the new steam bending technology however the conservative New Zealand audience offered no reason to speed through such daring, minimal chairs. The unique, cantilever chair crafted from a single piece of plywood elevated by two simple feet is one of the most memorable designs to emerge from mid-century New Zealand and it remains an important piece of modernist design history.
In the decade that followed World War II, designers continued to experiment with new materials and the influence of modernism from a new wave of immigrant architects. It was a period of global change and a move towards open plan interiors and lightness of form. John Crichton surfaces in design annuals during this time, recognised mainly for his work in lighting objects and a prolific series of mosaic tile bowls.
The New Zealand Modern Collection of 2020 includes three cane furniture designs and a large mosaic tile bowl work, finished in a spun copper base. Each furniture piece reflects the period’s optimism, combining natural or plastic coated cane with a wrought iron frame to create confident, graphic forms.
Stephane Rondel enters the New Zealand design landscape in the 1990s, in sync with other international post-modern designers like Marc Newson and Ron Arad. He developed a playful series of objects, generally in aluminium, which often drew from sexual or suggestive themes. The collection includes a suite of functional table sculptures including pairs of salt and pepper shakers and a pair of candlesticks.
All the pieces from the collection demonstrate the imaginative use of materials at a point in time of significant social change, reflecting the desire to live differently. Half a century later, we are again faced with changing the way we live in light of the health crisis.
This collection reminds us to appreciate those timeless objects which get better with age when so other elements of life seems so transient. It also seems important to value and celebrate our local design history of brave, pioneering thinkers who pushed the boundaries.
The exhibition runs from 17 September to 3 October and is accompanied by works from Weasel Gallery.