by Thomas Crooks
The irony of creating another object of beauty about beautiful objects is not lost on Adrian Franklin, Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania, whose new book, Retro: A Guide to the Mid-20th Century Design Revival, was launched at The Mint during the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
“The world didn’t need another book about modern objects or collectibles from the 20th Century. I have many of them,” he said. And indeed Professor Franklin indicated his awareness of the political and environmental ramifications attached to the publication of yet another book about design.
However, Retro is more than simply a coffee table book. In it, Adrian Franklin explores our fascination with functional art objects from the last 100 years. “The whole essence of modernity is that we progress, we improve. Tradition is conservative and largely produces the same. Modernity seeks to improve,” he said.
Following on from his point about how mid-20th century objects are reflective and representative of our seemingly unending quest to evolve, Professor Franklin joked, “I also do a big wrap for Tupperware and Rosti.”
While there are many books that represent retro items dating from the early 1930s through to the early 1980s, and the emergence of “neo-liberalism”, Retro is different. Not only does it include beautiful photography of a host of varied objects, many of them from Professor Franklin’s private collection, it also seeks to explore “why we are in the grip of the mid-20th century”.
He spoke of the changing ways in which these functional design objects are consumed. Ranging from themed dinner plates to wall-mounted hat racks to a set of whiskey glasses from the 1960s that he has “never used because I don’t want to scratch them”, Professor Franklin said that today the objects are “what I call repositories of memory”. Whereas originally they were made to be used, now they are prized because they remind people of a certain era, and are often evocative of experiences from those times.
The fact that people so often embrace items from the last century represents “a backlash against consumerism in many ways”. Adrian Franklin takes this further: “The seals on my Tupperware containers are as good today as they were when they were made in the 1960s. It’s a very environmentally savvy thing to do.”