Monday, July 16, 2018

Going, going, gone – the final spiral of a cultural icon?

Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse Museum was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. The current travails of the internationally renowned Powerhouse are a measure of a lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it. The Powerhouse continues to play a crucial role in the area of creative industries, especially design. Yet no-one seems to know about it. Where will exhibitions of this relevance and calibre be exhibited and, more importantly, developed, once these short-sighted changes have become real?

Who would have known? I thought there weren't many exhibitions of note on in Sydney during a recent visit because I'd seen no publicity. I searched online and discovered that in fact there was nothing on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I was shocked, though, to find that the Powerhouse Museum had a major mens fashion exhibition from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Costumes from the Reigning men: Fashion in menswear 1715-2015 exhibition.

Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015 explores the history of men’s fashionable dress from the 18th century to the present. As the Museum notes, 'it is the largest and most important menswear exhibition ever assembled, and explodes the myth that menswear is restrained.'

It features over 130 garments by a wide range of well-known menswear designers, including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent.

Mens fashion waistcoats - then and now.

Drawing primarily from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s renowned collection, 'the exhibition traces cultural influences over the centuries, examines how elements of the uniform have profoundly shaped fashionable dress.'

‘Despite its current trials the Powerhouse continues to play a crucial role in the area of creative industries, especially design. Yet no-one seems to know about it.’ 

In a very busy schedule I managed to slip in a visit to the exhibition. It was definitely essential viewing. On at the same time was a much smaller exhibition, with a small catalogue, but possibly one of the most profoundly interesting exhibitions I have seen.

Profoundly interesting
Common Good is an exhibition of work by designers from Australia and Asia that shows the vast range of ways design can be used to solve problems. It ranges from design used for environmental to industrial to community cultural development purposes.

Panel from the Common Good exhibition on the many and varied uses of design in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the accompanying notes, the exhibition is 'a survey of contemporary design from the Asia-Pacific region that explores design-led responses to social, ethical and environmental challenges by a new generation of socially-engaged designers. Diminishing natural resources, population pressure and the preservation of our cultural heritage are among the issues explored.' It was launched as part of Sydney Design Festival 2018.

‘Where will exhibitions of this relevance and calibre be exhibited and, more importantly, developed once the continual fiddling with the Powerhouse is finished?’ 

In the extensive explanatory material, the Museum comments that the exhibition 'profiles several key movements emerging in contemporary design practice through an expansive selection of innovative projects ranging from material explorations, contemporary craft, video game design, speculative practice and large-scale architectural interventions.' It goes on to note that the exhibition 'presents emerging sustainable design practices, international development initiatives and projects that demonstrate the ability of technology to generate social awareness and influence personal behaviour.' It 'includes work from a range of eminent international designers, as well as globally recognised local designers.'

Birth of a vision - the original Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Ultimo.

Despite its current trials the Powerhouse continues to play a crucial role in the area of creative industries, especially design. Yet no-one seems to know about it. Has the marketing budget of the Museum been cut? Even more important, where will exhibitions of this relevance and calibre be exhibited and, more importantly, developed once the continual fiddling with the Powerhouse is finished?

A great potential likely to be lost
In a bid to break free from the lack of transparency of the whole process, part of the campaign to halt the dismantling and relocation of the Powerhouse Museum has released the hitherto secret business case documents provided under pressure by the NSW government to its Upper House, the Legislative Council, about the proposal by the State Government to move the museum to western Sydney.

‘Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context.’ 

I’ve previously written that with its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum. Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context.

In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. That the Powerhouse failed to realise its potential is a measure of a lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it. The current travails of the Powerhouse Museum are a sad reflection of this shallow lack of understanding and vision.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world
‘If you are losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years, this is a summary of all 133 articles up until mid July 2017, broken down into categories for easy access. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture’, See also – indefinite articles in a definite world.

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.

The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity
‘As globalism proceeds apace, the counter-balancing world of the local and regional is becoming more important, anchoring us firmly in the places where we reside and create, where culture is made and lived. A set of Canberra exhibitions built around innovation and celebrating the achievements of craft and design connects local creativity and cultural life with the larger international significance of the themes and artists involved’, The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity.

The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum
‘With its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum. Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. That the Powerhouse failed to realise its potential is a measure of the lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it’, The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

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