Class, Classy, Classic

12 September – 1 November 2009

Curators: Shirley Daborn and Victoria Harbutt

This exhibition brings together artworks, useful and decorative ware, furniture, archival materials and cultural ephemera in a calculated convergence designed to explore the powerful aesthetic notions, practices and concerns of both high and popular culture that shaped Australian life from 1930 to 1966.

Artwork and archival material are drawn from Penrith Regional Gallery’s Collection which originated as a generous bequest to the people of the Penrith region by modernist artist, Margo Lewers. The art practice of Margo Lewers and her husband, sculptor Gerald Lewers, underpins the Collection’s focus on Australian Abstraction during the period 1930-1970. The Collection currently consists of approximately 960 objects, primarily featuring paintings, sculptures and works on paper with approximately 100 artists represented. Many of those are included in Class•Classy•Classic: Thomas Gleghorn, Bim Hilder, Frank Hinder, Leonard Hessing, Peter Upward, Gerald Lewers, Margo Lewers, Judy Cassab, Ralph Balson and more. Also on display are elements of the Collection not usually exhibited – sculptural models, maquettes, sketches and newspaper articles.

In contrast, popular culture of the period is represented by Angus Winneke’s set and costume design drawings of the late 1940s to early 1960s which were made for The Tivoli Circuit of Australia. The Tivoli Circuit began producing entertainment in Sydney in 1893; Melbourne in 1895 and Adelaide in 1900, only closing their doors at the onset of television in 1966. Winneke started designing for the Tivoli Circuit shortly after leaving art school in 1939 only stopping when the Tivoli Circuit ended. He created 1,800 sets and 20,000 costumes for around 180 shows. The shows, originally a blend of British music hall and American minstrel show were unique to Australia and though styles of music and performance came and went, the Tivoli content remained fixed on the presentation of variety acts – local and international, stylized ‘far off’ foreign lands, costume and culture and satirical skits regarding current events, politicians and other public figures. Above all the Tivoli presented non-stop glamour and entertainment designed to make ‘the people’ happy.

A selection of extracts from the Collection’s art and cultural publications have been photocopied and are available for visitors to read; these provide contextual information and academic critique of the period’s emerging art movements and cultural themes. Valuable information about the Tivoli Circuit of Australia is provided by extracts from historian Frank Van Straten’s comprehensive 2003 publication, Tivoli. Much of the period furniture, ceramics and decorative ware have been lent by Shapiro Auctioneers and Galleries and private collectors.

Class•Classy•Classic places the mediums of painting, sculpture, design and performance in counterpoint and contrast, while the deliberately provocative positioning of the artwork, objects and reading materials draw attention to the tensions, sympathies and contradictions surrounding concepts of art and craft; artist and artisan; artist and designer; Modernist and traditionalist; intellect and sensuality; high and low culture; middle class and working class; art and entertainment. 

Special thanks to Andrew Shapiro, John Kirkman and The Arts Centre’s Collection staff for their generosity and support. Thanks also to Birdwood Studio, Melissa Brinkworth, Stephen Hamper, Naomi McCarthy, Paul Ogier, Amanda Palmer, Shane Roberts, Leo Tanoi, Claire Simpson, Marian Simpson, Yasmin Smith, Zona Wilkinson & the volunteers.

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