<em>Cape, (Provincetown)</em> (1964) <!-- (recto) --><br />

synthetic polymer paint and resin on canvas<br />
278.5 x 237.2 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967<br />
1773-5<br />
© Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/ARS, New York. Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia Sydney

Observations | Women in Art and Design History
Seminar 3 – Modern Art and Design Innovators: 1930–1970

Sat 2 Jul 22, 10am

Helen FRANKENTHALER<br/> <em>Cape, (Provincetown)</em> (1964) <!-- (recto) --><br /> synthetic polymer paint and resin on canvas<br /> 278.5 x 237.2 cm<br /> National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br /> Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967<br /> 1773-5<br /> © Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/ARS, New York. Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia Sydney <!--3963-->
Past program

This program takes place virtually

Modern Art and Design Innovators: 1930-1970, examines the rapidly shifting times of the mid-century, in particular, the women artists and designers who reimagined modernism and exported their radical new ideas across the world. Highlighting the work of artists Helen Frankenthaler, Eva Hesse and Lee Krasner and designers Eva Zeisel, Charlotte Perriand and Ray Eames, this series will connect audiences directly with industry specialists including Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; Juliet Kinchin, emeritus Curator of Modern Design, MoMA and Adjunct Professor at New York’s Bard Graduate Center; and cultural historian Phyllis Teo, who will spotlight the work of Modernist women artists in China.

Program schedule released closer to the event.
Participants will have access to content for 4 weeks following the seminar.

Interior propositions: women and the modern interior

Architecture and interiors are by their very nature collaborative art forms, involving a diverse range of skills and materials. Yet the contributions of many women have often been hidden from view or marginalised. Through a series of case studies, this seminar highlights some of the female designers who from the 1920s to 1950s broke into professions previously closed to them, forged international networks, and emerged at the forefront of design for the modern interior. Rather than concentrating on isolated ‘masterworks’ of furniture, attention is given to the complex synthesis of skills, materials and processes, including the design of soft furnishings, wall-papers and lighting, as well as of temporary exhibitions and promotional displays. Among the noted partnerships featured in the presentation are Lilly Reich and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Grete Lihotzky and Ernst May; Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici; Alvar and Aino Aalto; Marguerite Mergentime and Frederick Kiesler; Ray and Charles Eames; Florence Knoll and Herbert Matter; Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier.


Juliet Kinchin is an independent design historian and former curator of design at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, where she organised a series of exhibitions highlighting women’s contributions to modern design, including Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen (2010), Century of the Child (2012), Designing Modern Women, 1890-1990 (2012), and How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior (2016). She has held faculty positions at the University of Glasgow, and Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, and Bard Graduate Center, New York; also curatorial positions at The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and in Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries.

Eva Zeisel: pioneering industrial designer. A personal perspective

Eva Zeisel led a prodigious life as one of the most successful industrial designers of the twentieth century. She was a tremendous life force, living until the age of 105, and continuing to design until the last few months of her life. Over a career that spanned eighty five years she produced hundreds of designs across the fields of ceramics, glass, metalwork, plastics, furniture, lighting and textiles but is most well-known for her ceramics. She pioneered design in the field of accessibly-priced, mass produced table wares aimed at the burgeoning middle classes, particularly in the decades following the Second World War. Zeisel was the first female designer to feature in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York – New Shapes in Modern China: Designed by Eva Zeisel 1946, a remarkable achievement given that she had only migrated to the United States eight years earlier, having fled the German annexation of Vienna. Zeisel also forged her career at a time when women were expected to marry and become full time mothers at home rather than pursuing design careers.

In conversation with Amanda Dunsmore, NGV Senior Curator of International Decorative Arts and Antiquities, Jean Richards will discuss her mother, Eva Zeisel’s career, in particular the success with which she managed to juggle competing demands between her family and career and while working in tough, male dominated environments.


Jean Richards, Eva’s daughter, is an actress and children’s book author. She has appeared in two Broadway shows (Fiddler on the Roof and The Rothschilds)  and many off and off-0ff Broadway productions, as well as several TV soap operas. She has recorded many voice-over narrations and commercials. She is the author of several children’s books, including God’s Gift, a Children’s Book of the Month Club main selection. Still in print and selling well is A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds, Lerner Publishing. She is co-author with her husband, Brent Brolin, of the ebook “Eva Zeisel, A Soviet Prison Memoir.

Amanda Dunsmore is Senior Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities at the National Gallery of Victoria. She has a background in Egyptology and worked for many years as a ceramic specialist in Egypt. Her research interests include eighteenth-century English architecture and interiors, in particular the work of James Wyatt, and early 20th century design and the rise of modernism. She has curated numerous exhibitions including Bugatti: Carlo, Rembrandt, Ettore, Jean (2009), Japonisme: Japan and the Birth of Modern Art (2018) and Spectrum: An Exploration of Colour (2021).

Re-writing Modernism: Women Artists in 20th Century China

The lecture gives an overview of the contribution and significance of Chinese women artists in the discourse of modernity in the twentieth century through the narratives and works of two artists Nie Ou and Yin Xiuzhen. While their contribution has been significant, there have been only sporadic attempts critically to examine Chinese women’s position and influence in recent art history. Twentieth-century China was interwoven with a series of revolts that caused the fall of its last imperial rule and saw the establishment of a new republic which dissolved to become the People’s Republic of China. As the nation encountered and addressed issues of modernity, prevailing attitudes of gender and equality were recurrently challenged and dealt with. With changing conditions of artistic practices in China, the lecture examines the ways in which the women artists participated in the representation of women and their search for artistic individuality in twentieth-century China.


Phyllis Teo is the author of Rewriting Modernism: Three Women Artists in Twentieth Century China (Leiden University Press; University of Chicago Press, 2016). She received her PhD in Art History and Cultural Studies from the University of Queensland, supported by UQ Research Scholarship. Her research interests include Chinese art history, Asian Visual Culture and Chinese film studies.

Women in Abstraction

This presentation will situate abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) in context of the period of art history that seeded her work and that of other leading artists of the time. The influence of her work on other artists of her generation will be addressed, as will its international presence during the first two decades of her career. Frankenthaler’s inclusion in the MOMA-organized exhibition Two Decades of American Painting, which toured in Japan, Korea, and Australia in 1966-67 and from which the National Gallery of Victoria acquired her 1964 painting Cape (Provincetown), will be explored in terms of its impact and relation to that of other artists now in NGV’s collection. The presentation will conclude with a consideration of how Frankenthaler’s work has become part of a revitalized discourse with the practices of many artists today.


Elizabeth Smith is an American art historian, curator, writer, and the first Executive Director of the New York-based Helen Frankenthaler Foundation since 2013. Previously Smith was Executive Director, Curatorial Affairs, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She has curated major exhibitions of such artists as Lee Bontecou, Jenny Holzer, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie and Cindy Sherman and on topics in architecture including Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses. She has published and lectured extensively on the work of artist Helen Frankenthaler.

Charlotte Perriand: Catalyst and Collaborator 

Charlotte Perriand was one of the great designers of the 20th century. She was a catalytic figure who was instrumental in the development of modernist furniture, open-plan living and modular systems for furnishing and construction. As a woman, she was almost unique in the recognition she achieved in her lifetime, even if she was closely associated with male associates such as Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé. This panel discussion looks at Perriand’s career in the context of other women designers of the modernist period. It examines her highly collaborative way of working, and asks what the challenges and opportunities were for women designers at the time, with reference to contemporaries such as Lina Bo Bardi, Clara Porset and Minette de Silva.

Dr Jane Hall is a founding member of Turner Prize-winning collective studio ‘Assemble’, the designers of the Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life exhibition at the Design Museum. In 2018, Jane completed a PhD at the Royal College of Art, where her research focused on Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi’s work. She is the author of Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women (Phaidon, 2019).

Justin McGuirk is a writer and curator based in London. He is the chief curator at the Design Museum and the director of Future Observatory, a new national programme supporting design research in achieving the UK’s environmental goals. In a diverse career, he has edited magazines, been a newspaper critic, founded a digital publishing imprint and curated high-profile exhibitions.

Zoë Ryan is Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. She joined the ICA in November 2020. Prior to the ICA, she was the John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). At AIC, she founded the contemporary design collection and set the vision for collecting and exhibiting modern and contemporary architecture and design as expanded fields of practice in dialogue with the socio-political conditions of the times.

Talks and discussions Design Gender International Modernism NGV Collection Virtual