Winter 2002

Douglas Annand (text in full)

Annand’s pavilion for the New York World’s Fair in 1939 was a triumph

Douglas Annand (1903-76) was part of an Australian graphic design tradition concerned more with art and aesthetics than commercialisation. Unlike most of his colleagues, he chose not to work overseas and instead set new standards for Australian designers, creating images that were international in their philosophy, yet typically Australian. He was also a watercolourist, a textile designer, a muralist and a sculptor of great originality and style.

In 1937 Annand was commissioned to design the brochure and ceiling mural for the Australian Pavilion at the Paris Exposition. Unfortunately both the building and the exhibition design were uninspiring and it was an opportunity missed for Australia to show itself to the world as a modern and progressive country. Designer Gordon Andrews recalled: ‘It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen . . . It was the worst thing there. It was a pavilion designed by an architect; it had shelves all around it and on the shelves were pyramids of IXL jam, fruit, mouldy moth-eaten stuffed kangaroos and koalas and that was the limit. It really gave me the shudders.’ 1

Fortunately, by 1939 the organising committee for the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair recognised the need for change and appointed Annand as Design Director. It was to be an overwhelming triumph for both Annand and Australia. The design was featured in Australian Art Annual 1939 and the Architectural Review selected it in its Special New York World’s Fair issue, ‘For special prominence . . . in recognition of the great step forward made by Australia since previous exhibitions. This year Australia has given her own modern designers a chance. The mural display is extremely effective . . . and the design of the display stands and the lighting are also skilfully planned.’ 2

Stephenson and Turner, architects of Australia’s Paris pavilion, were again the supervising architects for New York. But now they worked with a team led by Annand. This was how Annand preferred to work – architect and designer in a team from the early planning stages. His design team included Russell Roberts, Norman Carter, Adrian Feint, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings and Frank Hinder.

Annand had learnt from the 1937 Paris exhibition and the example of Alvar Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion that, by articulating space, changing spatial vistas and contrasting floor sections, visitors could be encouraged to walk through the exhibition. He created three main sections and in them concentrated on photography and murals in an uncluttered Modernist style. The central raised gallery area was surrounded by showcases. Here, adding a sophisticated note to the modern layout and design were six large paintings of wild flowers by Margaret Preston. It was a breakthrough for Australian pavilion design. Adapting the concepts of his innovative poster and cover designs, Annand juxtaposed large photographs with painted murals, photomontages and display objects – proving how successfully designers, architects, artists and photographers could work as a team.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, which only seven years after its opening had already become an Australian icon, was the largest of the many illuminated ‘Russ-lite’ photographic murals in the pavilion – so named after Annand’s friend, the entrepreneurial Australian photographer Russell Roberts, who produced these coloured photographs on glass. Annand added humour to the traditional iconic significance of the scene by painting fantastic ships and ferries on the harbour waters. Art in Australia reported the ‘Russ-lites’ as being ‘practically new to the New York Fair, where most of the photography is “straight”’. 3

In his typically understated way, Annand summed up the exhibition: ‘Generally speaking, the predominant note, from the standpoint of art, is the design. Plenty of scope has been allowed the designers in arranging the whole display, so that it is simple, novel and interesting.’ 4 The pavilion design established Annand’s reputation. He was rewarded in 1940 with a bronze medal from the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists’ Association.

footnotes:

1. Gordon Andrews, quoted in Geoffrey Caban, A Fine Line, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1983, p.76.

2. ‘Australia’ in Architectural Review, vol. 86 (Special New York Fair No.) 1939, p.74.

3. G. H. Beiers ‘The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair’ in Art in Australia, Third Series, no. 76, 15 August 1939, p.77.

4. Annand ‘Australia at the World’s Fair’ in Art in Australia, Third Series, no. 69, 15 February, 1939, p.59.

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