I was very lucky this year to receive an A-n bursary to extend my current research into mid war coastal architecture and begin my project, ‘The Maiden Voyage’. My work since 2013 has mainly responded to 1930s seafront architecture. This research began with a project looking at examples in North England and Scotland. The location choice was for various reasons – because it is where I live and where I am from so more accessible, and sites in this area, such as The Midland and Rothesay Pavilion are less documented than those ‘down south’. I was fortunate to then be able to extend this research to Miami Beach last year to research the most highly concentrated area of mid-war seafront architecture internationally in the preserved ‘art deco’ area on South Beach.
This A-n artist bursary will enable me to return to Miami Beach to explore more examples of seafront architecture in depth and re-visit more collections in the Wolfsonian archive. The Wolfsonian is a museum, library and archive situated on Miami Beach and holds a large collection of art and design objects from 1850-1950.
The bursary will also enable me to visit New York for the first time in 18 years! On the visit, I will view the first examples of modernist architecture, or as we now call this particular period, ‘art deco’ architecture in New York. After these impressive and expensive buildings, such as the Chrysler and New Yorker were first built in the late 1920s, the style further trickled down in a cheaper style to Miami Beach in the 1930s.
The modernist style of architecture and design was first viewed by US president Calvin Coolidge on an ocean liner journey to Paris Industrial Arts Exposition in 1925. Following this visit, he encouraged construction of this forward-thinking architecture in New York using their advanced engineering skills. Whilst in New York, I will visit as many examples as I can of this mid-war architecture constructed in this style, intended to impress with expensive and gilded materials. I will also be visiting the Museum of New York archive to explore the history of New York as an ocean liner port. I am interested in how the design of the Ocean Liners that carried the new people to the USA correlated to the new architecture constructed there during the mid-war period, mimicking its curved shapes, elongated lines and details such as portholes.
I have been lucky that it is very timely that the Ocean Liners Speed and Style exhibition opened this Spring at the Victoria and Albert Museum and runs until the 17th June. It is a blockbuster exhibition and ran previously at the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts, who partnered on the exhibition. Speed and Style will also be the first exhibition at the Dundee V&A, opening later this year, which is fitting as its design by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is reminiscent of a ship on land with its curved, tiered walls on its riverside location.
I visited Ocean Liners – Speed and Style a few weeks ago. Prior to visiting I had read the book accompanying the exhibition cover to cover, which I suppose spoiled the viewing of the exhibit in some aspects as I had seen and read about 70% of the artefacts before. The exhibition follows a similar structure to the book, grouping together aspects of this transatlantic travel into numerous areas such as Advertising the Ocean Liner, Inter-War Liners (a special interest of mine) and Fashion and Spectacle on Board.
The exhibition shows a wide range of materials, ephemera, interior design objects and films, both historical and fictional (of course Titanic) about the history of Ocean Liners. The breadth of information was at times difficult to take in as the exhibition was so incredibly busy, even on an early mid-week morning. It was difficult to linger with objects as there was always a queue of 3-4 people behind you waiting to view the display after you. Such is the appeal of a V&A blockbuster which I am not quite used to of late living up North!
The artefacts in the exhibition which I particularly enjoyed were the architect and designers illustrations of the ship’s interiors and on deck relaxing, the clothing worn on board such as bathing suits and interior furniture and fittings.
As at the seaside, I am drawn to the idea of people performing roles on the Ocean Liners. The environment was set up in a particular manner, with segregated areas for different classes, although there are some accounts of Ocean Liners that this was the floating island on the sea where classes collided and intermingled. The mid-war artefacts and illustration that I most clearly identified with were from the 1930s when there was a real social emphasis on wellbeing, health and relaxation. The clothing and its style were interesting as it is an area I would like to explore more.