Overview

Contemporary Style


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This style was in vogue in the 1950s and was closely associated with the many of the new designs seen at the Festival of Britain exhibition of 1951, the major site for which was the South Bank in London. The Festival was a dramatic post‐war celebration of colour and modernity following the constraints of a decade of austerity and limited room for freedom of expression under the Utility Design regulations. The ‘Contemporary’ look, sometimes also known as the ‘Festival Style’, was characterized by the use of organic forms and bright colours as seen in Lucienne Day's Calyx textile design of 1950 and in the rather expressive, spindly linear forms of Ernest Race's Antelope chair. Fabricated from enamelled steel rods and moulded plywood seat its slightly splayed legs were set into small molecule‐like ball feet, the latter a feature on many domestic products in the 1950s, whether plant pot holders, magazine rack holders, coat hooks, furnishing fabrics, or light fittings, or the design of space dividers and balustrades in retail outlets and offices. The work of the Festival Pattern Group (See Festival of Britain) also drew on science as a metaphor for contemporaneity, exploring as the basis for surface pattern design the intricate abstract forms of crystallography, a scientific field in which Britain was a world leader. The design output of this group inspired designs that were adopted by 26 British manufacturers and were applied to all kinds of flat surfaces including ceramics, glass, textiles, carpets, wallpapers, and packaging and may be seen to have influenced designers such as Marianne Straub. The Contemporary Style was also closely aligned to the quality of line in the work of fine artists such as Joan Miró and the colourful abstract elements of Alexander Calder mobiles and the sculptural inclinations of Barbara Hepworth and Alberto Giacometti. The molecular look was also taken up in other countries, as in George Nelson's 1949 Atomic Clock for the Howard Miller Company in the United States or the focal point of the Brussels International Exhibition, the Atomium (based on the magnification by 165 million times of an iron molecule) by André Polack and André Waterkeyn. The organic form of much Contemporary Style furniture, ceramics, glass, and metalware was also an international currency and could be seen in products such as Tapio Wirkkala's Kantarelli vase of 1947, Arne Jacobsen's Ant Chair of 1951, Carlo Mollino's Arabesque table of 1950, or Isamu Noguchi's Akari paper lamp of 1954.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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