Kate Beynon’s Friendly Beasts


Working in collaboration with contemporary artists, the Children’s Art Centre creates new and unique artworks and projects for the young, and young at heart to engage with artist’s ideas and ways of working. A key part of achieving great outcomes is in the design. For Kate Beynon’s ‘Friendly Beasts’, currently on display at GOMA until 22 October 2017, we wanted to create immersive spaces that invoke a sense of playfulness, encourage creativity and mindfulness.

Kate Beynon was born in Hong Kong in 1970 and moved to Australia in 1974 and has recently completed her PhD at Monash University, exploring the presence of creatures — including mythical beasts and hybrid human figures — in contemporary art and how they relate to theories of cultural identity. Her work is informed by multiple visual traditions including Western and Eastern comic books, animation, film, graffiti, calligraphy and fashion, and her rich artistic practice and beautiful watercolours provided fertile inspiration for us throughout the creative process of bringing to life the ‘Friendly Beasts’ exhibition.

Watercolour concepts by Kate Beynon / © The artist

Once you enter the space you meet the ‘beasts’ in life-size form. Adapted from the artist’s Dance of the Spirits and Apotropaic Vessels series, each character has special attributes and different personalities. Mysterious Blue Shaman is a healer through music, magic charms and dance; mischievous, energetic Lotus Monkey encourages joy and play; grinning Tu-Dao Dog is a friendly and loyal companion; and snaky-haired Gorgon Girl stops bullies in their tracks by turning them to stone.

You also can connect with the characters by touching the hand shaped sensors which change colour from rainbow to the creatures colour. Sounds representative of the creatures traits emanate from their illuminated bodies that are displayed against a soft background of watercolour blobs adapted from Beynon’s artwork.

Pass through an illuminated Moon Gate that incorporates details inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns that carry symbolic meaning in Chinese culture and reflect a common topic of Beynon’s work — hybrid identity. The use of contemporary materials such as Ampelite Fibreglass sheeting and LED lighting to achieve a subtle illumination in different colours symbolises a connection between tradition and the contemporary.

The activity ‘Beast Remix’ uses templates based on Beynon’s works so you can create a new hybrid creature of your own imagining. For this space we incorporated a selection of masks made by children during trials into the wallpaper so that their inventions could provide a source of inspiration for others. Once your mask is completed, pass through another Moon Gate that leads you to the dancing zone where you can dance with the beasts in the artist’s three channel video installation, Visions from a Ghost Tale / Friendly Beasts.

Beynon also wanted to have a quiet space that encouraged children to sit down and engage in a relaxing and meditative activity. The Lotus Garden is an oasis featuring a collaborative drawing activity that invites you to use coloured pencils and organic-shaped stencils to create a landscape in which your beast might live. Kwan Yin, the Goddess of mercy, compassion and kindness in Chinese culture looks over the space with a dramatic large-scale reproduction of the artist’s representation of Kwan Yin in the Lotus Field and an animation of her many armed-figure on display.

Installation photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Lotus flower lights designed and made by Sachie Muramatsu especially for our exhibition are suspended above the drawing table, while a custom designed carpet of a lotus pond and garden complete the space. These gentle and contemplative colours, as well as ambient sound envelopes the space and creates a multisensory experience.

Laura Mudge is Senior Program Officer, Children’s Art Centre
Kasia Jarosz is Exhibition Designer, QAGOMA

Taste the sea


The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea is an interactive exhibition that explores the close relationship of Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori — the daughters of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori — with their ancestral homeland of Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Bring the family in to visit the Children’s Art Centre at GOMA during the school holidays and interact with Sally Gabori’s world.

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

Visit Bentinck Island, Sally Gabori’s world

Bentinck Island is not an idyllic tropical island. Its scrub and saltpans have made it a challenging and at times inhospitable place to live. The Kaiadilt people who lived there were almost entirely reliant on the ocean for food, with rock wall fish traps enabling them to collect fish and other sea creatures at low tide.

In the late 1940s, however, after a prolonged drought was followed by a tropical cyclone and storm surge that engulfed most of the island and polluted its freshwater sites, the Kaiadilt were forced to move to nearby Mornington Island. They return to Bentinck Island as often as possible but there is insufficient infrastructure to support permanent residence there. Sisters Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori recently shared with us some memories about their homeland and their mother.

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The waters surrounding Bentinck Island in Queensland’s Gulf of Carpentaria / Photography: Anna Kreig


Laura Mudge | Your work is inspired by your ancestral homeland of Bentinck Island. Could you tell us where it is and what it is like there?

Amanda Gabori | Bentinck Island is in the Gulf of Carpentaria. My mum’s country is Mirdidingki where the big river is. Mum’s mother is from Albinia Island, just across from Bentinck. Dad’s [Dibirdibi Pat Gabori] country is Kabararrji where Nyinyilki is, the fresh waterhole.

Elsie Gabori | Mirdidingki is a place with lots of mudshells and hunting ground for plenty of feed. The big river is hugged by mangroves. This is where Mum was born. Nyinyilki is called Mainbase now . . .

Amanda Gabori | Nyinyilki is a lovely place. It overlooks Sweers Island.

Laura Mudge | What special places on Bentinck Island do you remember?

Amanda Gabori | We have fond memories of Mainbase as the young ones would return there during school holidays. We’d camp and take them hunting and the old ladies would take them to sacred story places, teaching them what they must do so they won’t get sick.

Elsie Gabori | Mainbase, it’s a home for everyone. Mum loved that place. Mum was always gathering food with her nieces and daughters . . . and nephews.

Dorothy Gabori | I usually paint Mum’s country, too, it’s beautiful there. I remember being carried there as a child when we all got to return home. It’s a very special memory for me.

Laura Mudge | Can you share with us a special Kaiadilt story that has inspired your painting?

Amanda Gabori | My painting is the scale of Dibirdibi — red, orange and that bit of white. The colours represent him, that’s his colour. That’s my totem. The story of the rock cod [ancestor] is that it gave the strongest freshwater supply, this freshwater place is on the east side looking towards the mainland, at Sweers Island . . .

Dorothy Gabori | . . . That’s Dibirdibi Story Place, that’s also Dad’s country. His father, Harry, was born there. That’s how we got the Dibirdibi name and totem.

Elsie Gabori | Mum’s country has a story place called Mosquito Story Place. You are not supposed to go there, it’s thick with mosquitos . . .

Laura Mudge | Your mother is a very well-respected artist. Did she inspire you to start painting?

Amanda Gabori | Mum wanted me to start painting with her. I was really excited. That was many years ago. Now I feel very proud to follow Mum’s footsteps, feel strong. One day our children or grandchildren will follow our footsteps.

Elsie Gabori | I came up to the art centre and found Mum painting. I was encouraged to stay and start painting. I said to myself, I will stay here to be with my sister and Mum, which was good.

Dorothy Gabori | Yes, Mum was talking to me one day in the big orange house, ‘you come up here and paint with me’ and now I am still painting at the art centre!

Elsie Gabori | Mum is a special old lady.

Laura Mudge | ‘Gathering by the Sea’ is about the ocean surrounding your homeland. Why is it important for you to share this with visitors?

Amanda Gabori | Mum’s mob was taken away from their homeland. Mum only had her eldest son born there on the island, he was in her arms. The rest of her children were born here on Mornington Island. That’s why it’s so important for us to return to this country and share it with others.

Elsie Gabori | Everything we still know about country and culture became special because we were so far away from home for so long.

Dorothy Gabori | The stone fish trap is special to Bentinck Island. Not many cultures use them to hunt. Even when we mob return after many years, we can see the work the old people did. Still standing there, waiting for us. It grounds us to culture, family and country. The young people still use that hunting area even now.

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

Laura Mudge | What do you hope children will take away from their experience of ‘Gathering by the Sea’?

Amanda Gabori | We feel it’s important for our children to return to country and to learn about their culture. We hope the children at the exhibition will also taste what it feels to be like our children, taste the sea.

Elsie Gabori | Share what a little Aboriginal person might see and do in their sea country.

Dorothy Gabori | We try to share our culture with the kids, like how Mum strengthened our culture by teaching us to paint.

Laura Mudge | Can you explain the significance of the word ‘gathering’ in the title of this exhibition?

Elsie Gabori | Gathering food ends up keeping our family together and strong. Keeping culture strong, too, as the tradition and stories get passed on to the young people. I feel safe when I have my family around me.

Amanda Gabori | Gathering families together. This is special for us because it makes us happy when we are sharing with our family.

Dorothy Gabori | Coming together to spend time with each other. Because we are surrounded by the sea. The times we gather in our country are when we feel strongest.

Laura Mudge, Acting Senior Program Officer, Children’s Art Centre, spoke with Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori and Mornington Island Art Manager Grace Barnes via email.

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

The Gabori Sisters - Gathering by the Sea Children's Art Centre GOMA

‘The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea’ is the eighth interactive exhibition commissioned from Australian artists by the Gallery. Among other activities, children can use specially designed templates to make corals, shells, starfish (sea stars) and other sea creatures, including crabs, fish, seahorses, octopuses, turtles and prawns — just some of the many animals found in the Bentinck fish traps — and add them to a collaborative ‘rock wall’ display.

The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea
Until 12 February 2017 | Children’s Art Centre, GOMA | Free

APT8 Kids: An interview with Hetain Patel




Hetain Patel / The Jump 2015 / Two-channel HD video installation, 16:9, colour, sound, ed.of 5 / Image courtesy: The artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai

Hetain Patel’s works have entertained and intrigued us since the opening of APT8 and APT8 Kids. Laura Mudge spoke with him about what inspired The Jump and Behind the Mask.

Laura Mudge | Your work for APT8, The Jump, relates to your experiences as a child. Can you tell us about that?

Hetain Patel | Like many kids I used to fantasise about being a superhero. My favourite has always been Spider-Man — I used to jump off the sofa pretending to be him. The Jump is filmed in the house that all of my family have lived in at some point since emigrating from India to the UK. My grandmother still lives there today. I lived there until I was five years old. For this film I wanted to return to the original house, to the original sofa I first jumped off, and re-stage it with my homemade Spider-Man costume and the production value of a Hollywood blockbuster. The actual jumping action is symbolic of lots of things; it’s about taking a leap into the unknown, whether this is my family migrating to a new country, or my British-born generation wanting to fly the coup and be part of the Western world outside the front door. Beyond the cultural specificity of this I think everyone has their own jump or multiple jumps in them, whether it is one they have done or is still latent in them.

Laura Mudge | Could you explain how you achieved the super slow motion effect for The Jump?

Hetain Patel | It required specialist camera and lighting equipment, and experienced crew. We shot the film at 2500 frames per second, which is one-hundredth of the speed of real life. The shots in real time are about three-and-a-half seconds, which I’ve slowed down to about six minutes. You need five times the amount of lighting for this kind of filming than you would normally need, and it needs to be of a particular kind so that you don’t see it flickering at the extremely slow pace.

Laura Mudge | Your APT8 Kids project Behind the Mask closely relates to The Jump. What is it about the work that you think is engaging for children in particular?

Hetain Patel | I think beyond the superhero part of it, there is something quite ‘nature documentary’ about watching something happen at such a slow speed. A lot of things happen in life at such a fast pace that I think that, for a lot of us, it can be quite mesmerising to slow something down.

Laura Mudge | In The Jump you are wearing your own homemade Spider-Man costume, which is very impressive. Why did you choose to wear a homemade outfit rather than a store-bought one?

Hetain Patel | The obsessive DIY-ness in making the costume is part of the work. Manual labour is a recurring process in my practice and is a reference to the working-class background that I consider to be my cultural heritage. The costume appears in other works of mine, including a video installation that shows the making process. I spent a lot of time making it, with an amount of detail and bespoke elements that you can’t buy in a store.

Laura Mudge | How long did it take you to make your costume? Did you need to take classes?

Hetain Patel | It took me four months. I did a lot of research online and got lots of invaluable tips from a vast community of guys on YouTube who make their own Spider-Man costumes on a budget. In the end, I mixed lots of different methods to make mine how I wanted it. I bought a blue morph suit from a place where you can input your measurements online, and then they send it to you fitting perfectly from head to toe. Then I drew on the design (which I know by heart) and spent many hours painting the mesh pattern, crosshatch, webbing and colour by hand, using 3-D fabric paint.

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Details from Hetain Patel’s Behind the Mask 2015 / Commissioned for APT8 Kids with support from the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation / Image courtesy: The artist

Laura Mudge | In Behind the Mask, your APT8 Kids project which features photographs of children from in and around London dressed up as superheroes, the children are also wearing homemade costumes. Why is this important?

Hetain Patel | I asked them to dress up as any superhero they wanted to be, but actually didn’t put any restrictions on this as I was interested to see what they would do. As it turned out, even though many of the kids had store-bought costumes, none of them opted to wear them, preferring instead to make up their own with the look and powers that they had tailored for themselves.

Laura Mudge | Superheroes are experiencing a golden age right now, with new Marvel and DC movies being released multiple times a year. Did you find that the children you worked with were very familiar with the concept of superheroes?

Hetain Patel | Yes, they were all very familiar with it. But I don’t necessarily think this is a recent thing. I think kids have been familiar with the concept of superheroes for as long as heroism has been part of the stories we tell. If superheroes are manifestations of something that goes beyond regular human capabilities, then I imagine that in Roman times, gladiators would have been considered superheroes. I think the powers we see in our superheroes now are a reflection of the ever-widening scope of what we see as possible for humans to achieve.

Laura Mudge | Were the children intrigued by the idea of dressing up as a superhero for the project?

Hetain Patel | They loved it. They all seemed to do it on a daily or weekly basis anyway but their parents all told me they had been particularly excited about the shoot and wanted their costumes to be perfect.

Laura Mudge | What is the significance of photographing the children in mid-jump?

Hetain Patel | The initial plan was to film them in the same slow motion as my film. The photographs were ‘Plan B’ due to budget restrictions, but proved to be interesting in their own right. I like that it’s a medium that everyone has access to. The jumping action, particularly for kids this age, is genuinely a place of excitement, imagination and self-projection — a short but thrilling and scary time of being free, flying. I also love the kids’ reactions to seeing their own photographs. They were impressed with themselves and wanted to do more.

Laura Mudge | How have you found the process of creating an artwork specifically for children?

Hetain Patel | Considering the audience is a key part of my work and I enjoy the challenge of making work aimed at audiences that I am not used to. I enjoy thinking about how to take one of my ideas and make it accessible to different audiences without compromising its integrity. In this sense, it is something I find myself doing more and more. And in this case it wasn’t too much of a stretch, as I think a lot like a kid anyway.

Laura Mudge | Children are also able to engage with your APT8 Kids project by dressing up as superheroes and sending in their own picture. Why do you think this kind of dressing up has such broad appeal?

Hetain Patel | I think dressing up has broad appeal because it’s a part of getting to know ourselves. For children it is particularly potent, because getting to know themselves and the world is their full-time job. Even as adults, we still do this, whether it is a uniform for work, dressing up for a night out, or being at home. With each of these costumes, we feel and act differently. It feels like one of the ways we can continually negotiate our identities.

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
Until Sunday 10 April 2016

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia
APT8 Kids Principal Benefactor: Tim Fairfax Family Foundation
Major Sponsor: Santos GLNG

Swags and Swamp Rats

QAGOMA Children's Art Centre Robert MacPherson Swags and Swamprats
Robert MacPherson, Australia b.1937 / MAYFAIR: (SWAMP RATS) NINETY-SEVEN SIGNS FOR C.P., J.P., B.W., G.W. & R.W (installation detail) 1994–1995 / Acrylic on Masonite / Purchased 1998 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895–1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist


‘Swags and Swamp Rats’ is the seventh Children’s Art Centre exhibition developed in collaboration with a contemporary Australian artist. It takes children on a journey with Robert MacPherson and introduces them to the people, places and objects that inspire him. Need some inspiration for these school holidays?

We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with Robert MacPherson, one of Australia’s most revered senior artists, on the latest project for the Children’s Art Centre. Through interactive, hands-on and multimedia activities young visitors can explore MacPherson’s interest in the overlooked or forgotten aspects of Australian history, language and local characters.

QAGOMA Children's Art CentreRobert MacPhersonSwags and Swamprats

QAGOMA Children's Art CentreRobert MacPhersonSwags and Swamprats

QAGOMA Children's Art CentreRobert MacPhersonSwags and Swamprats

QAGOMA Children's Art Centre Robert MacPherson Swags and Swamprats

The Children’s Art Centre first worked with MacPherson in 2008 to develop The swamp rats drawing project. This activity invited children to draw a picture in response to the various words in MAYFAIR: (SWAMP RATS) NINETY-SEVEN SIGNS FOR C.P., J.P., B.W., G.W. & R.W. 1994–1995. The artwork, dedicated to a group of fishermen who lived by the Brisbane River, references handmade road signs often seen on the side of the highway that call the attention of passing motorists to food, fuel and frozen bait. We are fortunate to be able to reprise this activity for ‘Swags and Swamp Rats’ and for the first time display it alongside the artwork, which is in the Gallery’s Collection.

Robert MacPherson / 1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS (“YELLOW LEAF FALLING”) FOR H.S. (detail) 1996–2014 / Graphite, ink and stain / 2400 sheets / Purchased 2014 with funds from the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation, Paul and Susan Taylor, and Donald and Christine McDonald / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Robert MacPherson: The Painter's Reach GOMA Installation process

Robert MacPherson has drawn many pictures in the guise of his alter ego, Robert Pene, a ten year-old schoolboy at St Joseph’s convent in Nambour, Queensland. Pene’s curiosity, humour and sense of wonder about the world provide a delightful connection for children to MacPherson’s artworks. A favourite subject of Pene’s is the boss drovers, who were responsible for moving thousands of livestock across vast distances, over often inhospitable and remote landscapes in Australia from the early 1800s.1 He not only celebrates the drovers as heroes in their own right but also brings to life many individual characters and their stories, including female and Indigenous drovers.

The Gallery’s major acquisition 1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS (“YELLOW LEAF FALLING”) FOR H.S. 1996–2014 is comprised of 2400 drawings of boss drovers and is nothing short of a labour of love. This significant artwork is the inspiration behind the multimedia activity Drover Muster, in which children can learn about the drovers and create their own character by assembling different facial features. Displayed nearby is the artwork DRY RIVER: 20 FROG POEMS, IN MEMORY OF ALEX WILSON MASTER HORSEMAN 1996–1998, comprised of 20 canvas swag covers that are stencilled with the names of stock routes and landmarks, memorialising these places and their histories.


Young visitors to the exhibition are also introduced to the distinctive dialect of the drovers. MacPherson has said, ‘I’m ever-dismayed by the loss of language, the sayings, the terms I used in my childhood’,2 and has sought to record in his artworks aspects of Australian vernacular no longer in everyday use. The word-based activity Learn the Lingo was developed especially for this exhibition and encourages children to be creative with language and discover how it has changed over time.

QAGOMA Children's Art Centre Robert MacPherson Swags and Swamprats

QAGOMA Children's Art Centre Robert MacPherson Swags and Swamprats


‘Swags and Swamp Rats’ gives children an insight into the art practice of Robert MacPherson and encourages them to connect with less well-known aspects of our history. MacPherson’s incredible eye for detail and interest in everyday experiences will also inspire them to see the world around them in new ways.

1  Darrell Lewis, ‘The bush has friends to meet him’, in Alan Mayne (ed.), Beyond the Black Stump: Histories of Outback Australia, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia, 2008, p.277.
2  Robert MacPherson, quoted in John O’Brian and Trevor Smith (eds), Robert MacPherson [exhibition catalogue], Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2001, p.55.

Journey to Fantastic Lands

A young visitor admiring part of Pip & Pop’s ‘we miss you magic land!’ installation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist / Photograph: Katie Bennett

Bringing together a selection of our most popular Children’s Art Centre installations and activities until 10 May, ‘Journey to Fantastic Lands’ is sure to entertain and intrigue visitors of all ages.

It is well known that children have wonderfully vivid imaginations, capable of transporting them to far-away lands and make-believe places. ‘Journey to Fantastic Lands’ encourages young visitors to explore the ways artists use their imagination to turn fantasy into reality. Featuring interactive artworks, playful animations, as well as paintings, photographs and sculptures from our vast Collection, this exhibition invites young visitors to come on a journey of discovery.

Children are able to create their own magical world inspired by Pip & Pop in the multimedia activity we miss you magic land! For this work, Pip & Pop drew on Buddhist ideas of the universe, video games, and stories such as that of the land of Cockaigne, which first appeared in French poetry in the thirteenth century. This mythical land of plenty was the medieval peasants’ dream, with descriptions of streets paved with pastries and houses made of cake and sugar. These whimsical ideas are brought to life in Pip & Pop’s four beautiful dioramas, dotted with artificial flowers and plastic trinkets and adorned with glitter and sequins.

'we miss you magic land!'Pip & PopInstallation view

'we miss you magic land!'Pip & PopInstallation view
Pip & Pop’s ‘we miss you magic land!’ installation (detail)

In contrast to these glittery scenes, the interactive stop motion animation You Were in My Dream 2010 by Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine delves into the sometimes dark and mysterious realm of dreams. Set in a shadowy forest, the small figure of a child lies asleep on the ground. With a click of the mouse, the viewer becomes participant, lending their face to the character through a live video feed. As they explore the forest and encounter its inhabitants, the participant can decide how their journey unfolds and watch as their character adapts to the surroundings, transforming from human to animal form and back again. This evocative work won the National New Media Art Award in 2010 and will enchant audiences anew as they become immersed in their adventures in the land of dreams.

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Isobel Knowles, Australia b.1980; Van Sowerwine, Australia b.1975 / You Were In My Dream 2010 / Custom animation bench: Duncan Jack; Programming: Tarwin Stroh-Spijer; Sound: James Cecil; Interactive installation: live-feed webcam and single-channel video constructed from stop-motion animation exhibited as digital media from hard drive, wood, 16:9, colour, sound. An Experimenta commission / The Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award 2010. Purchased 2010 with funds from the Queensland Government /Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Surreal representations of the landscape feature in the photographs of Rosemary Laing, which transmute the real to the imagined. In two expansive works by Laing, a forest floor is overlaid by patterned ornate carpets. The resulting scenes have a sense of magic about them — they bring together the rugged wilderness of the Australian landscape with vestiges of domestic grandeur, creating a fertile environment in which the imagination can flourish. Young visitors can also experience the captivating tale of The Fairy of the Kumgang Mountains as it unfolds in the large-scale murals from 2009 by North Korean artist Hwang In Jae. Close by, children can marvel at the zany glass creatures formed by Australian artist Tom Moore. His unique sculptures are a curious fusion of vegetable, animal and machine, and take on a life of their own in his quirky animation Autoganic, everything explodes 2008, in which a cardboard city comes under attack from alien space burgers.

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Tom Moore, Australia b.1971 / Autoganic, everything explodes 2008 / Animation (DVD format): 6:21 minutes, colour, sound. Glass and mixed media: Tom Moore; digital photographs: Grant Hancock; digital animation and stereo soundtrack: Nigel Koop / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2009. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Journey to Fantastic Lands’ is the first of two exhibitions for children and families that will be curated to specific themes and feature interactive digital activities, animation and engaging works from our Collection.

Barbie’s Dream House: A Lesson in Modern Design

Mattel, Inc. | Barbie’s Dream House (interior detail) c.1962 | Designed in Hawthorne | Offset lithography on cardboard | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Mattel, Inc.

Barbie’s Dream House c.1962 epitomises the modern Californian design that led to the manufacture of innovative and creative toys for children, and a version of the famous abode will be on display during ‘California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way’. The house provided children with the perfect modern space in which to act out their dreams of the future.

You may not expect furniture designers Ray and Charles Eames and toy creator Mattel Inc to have much in common, and yet both were interested in design for children and began making products in Los Angeles, California, during the mid twentieth century. Their works reflect the modern aesthetic and cutting-edge design that were emerging from the state at the time. From the mid twentieth century on, ‘the aesthetic, material, and technical innovations in design for children were remarkable, closely paralleling, and at times directly influencing, other areas of visual culture’.1

Design for children is one component of the Gallery’s ‘California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way’ exhibition from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and is represented by a number of objects, including Ray and Charles Eames’s House of Cards 1952 and Barbie’s Dream House c.1962 by Mattel Inc. The Dream House originally displayed during the exhibition at LACMA was loaned to them by Mattel but was unable to be brought to Australia. Instead the Gallery has sourced another Dream House for display from a private seller in North Canton, Ohio. This house has undoubtedly been played with and treasured, although not a single cardboard cushion has gone missing in the intervening 51 years. A pencil drawing of an Elvis album on the reverse side of one of Barbie’s records is a small reminder of the child who once played with this house.

The 1962 Dream House is simple and functional. Its cardboard construction and compact size was made to be easily folded and carried by a handle. The box in which it comes transforms into the house itself: the lid unlatches at the top and two cardboard leaves fold out to form the floor and sides. It is remarkably modest, with a single room serving as both living and bedroom, and no kitchen or bathroom included. Despite the lack of amenities, there are homely touches, with books on shelves, a framed picture of Barbie’s relatively new boyfriend, Ken (who appeared on the scene in 1961), and a collection of records. All accessories are made of cardboard, and the accompanying furniture — much like today’s offerings from IKEA — would have been assembled at home by the owner.

Mattel, Inc. | Barbie’s Dream House (exterior) c.1962 | Designed in Hawthorne | Offset lithography on cardboard | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Mattel, Inc.

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Home magazine in 1951, the ‘California look’ was typified by ‘glowing color, originality of treatment and simplicity of design’ .2 The sleek form and exterior detailing of the early Dream House is reminiscent of a bungalow or ranch-style dwelling and, together with its minimalist Scandinavian-inspired furniture and bright colours, is perfectly in keeping with this look. It provided children with an example of modern aspirations and a space in which to act out their dreams of the future.

Mattel Creations was founded in 1945 by Ruth and Elliot Handler, along with their friend, Harold Matson, and initially produced wooden picture frames and doll houses before going on to create musical toys.3 In 1959, Mattel Inc launched the ‘teen fashion model’ Barbie, named after the Handlers’ daughter, Barbara. The first Barbie wore a black-and-white swimsuit and cat’s eye sunglasses.4 In her debut year, she had 22 ensembles, and while some of these were domestically themed, most were glamorous and sophisticated. One of these outfits — titled ‘Suburban Shopper’ and produced from 1959–64 — has been purchased for display in the Gallery’s exhibition, along with the Dream House. The full-skirted blue-and-white cotton sundress came with a straw hat, a pearl necklace, a pink telephone and a straw bag filled with fruit.

Mattel, Inc. | Barbie’s Dream House (interior detail) c.1962 | Designed in Hawthorne | Offset lithography on cardboard | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Mattel, Inc.

Barbie’s taste in fashion and architecture has changed considerably since the mid twentieth century. The house’s current incarnation is an elaborate, three-level townhouse complete with elevator, in her now signature pink. However, Barbie’s more humble beginnings, with the small but stylish and durable Dream House c. 1962, epitomise the modern Californian design that led to the manufacture of innovative and creative toys for children.

California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way‘ which opens at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) on 2 November 2013 with talks, tours, and special events will introduce Australian audiences to a broad spectrum of industrial, architectural, commercial, fashion and craft design from California. Organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) the exhibition presents over 250 objects. The publication California Design 1930-1965: Living In A Modern Way is the first comprehensive study of mid-century modern California design which offers new research and ideas about the furniture, ceramics, graphic and industrial design, architecture, metalwork, textiles and fashion produced in the Golden State.

1    Juliet Kinchin, ‘Hide and seek: Remapping modern design and childhood’, in Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900–2000 [exhibition catalogue], Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012, p.12.
2    Wendy Kaplan, ‘Introduction’, Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930–1965 [exhibition catalogue], Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2011, p.27, cited in Home Magazine, Los Angeles Times, 21 October 1951.
3    Bobbye Tigerman (ed.), ‘Mattel Inc.’, in A Handbook of California Design, 1930–1965: Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2013, p.188.
4    The black-and-white swimsuit Barbie will be on display in the Gallery’s ‘California Design’ exhibition, along with Ken.