NGV International explores the complex global movement of people and resources

Kaylah Joelle Baker

The exchange of knowledge, natural resources, luxury and technologies across the globe will be explored in depth at the NGV International through its latest exhibition The Global Life of Design.

The exhibition opens to the public on October 6 and will feature more than 100 NGV Collection works that have either been created from, or in response to, materials that came about through global trade.

Using a wide range of materials and items, from exquisite garments made from silk and muslin, to elaborate teaware and ostrich feathers, The Global Life of Design will showcase precisely how the exchanging of commodities have influenced design, and vice versa.

“Art and design have always been shaped by the movement of people and resources,” NGV director Tony Ellwood said.

“Placing historical and contemporary design from the NGV Collection in conversation, indeed many for the very first time, this cross-collection exhibition reveals the influence of global trade and exchange on design traditions from the Middle Ages to the current day.”

Due to an expansive selection of works, the collections will be presented across four thematic sections – knowledge, natural resources, luxury and technologies – to further explore the exchanges that occurred in the past and continue on in the present.


The exhibition aims to inform and, perhaps surprise, visitors on the complex legacy of global trade, its entanglement with colonialism, and how networks continue to impact design practices today.


Among the works on display is an 1820s English dress made from fine diaphanous muslin, the work (titled Dress) speaks into how particular textiles were luxury commodities within this era, and how muslin was introduced to England from India in the 17th century.

Another noticeable reflection made within the exhibition is the movement of production based on where labour is cheaper, and Christien Meindertsma’s Flax chair work is directed at speaking volumes into this.

The work is made from a new bioplastic material composed of flax and polylactic acid, and while the processing of flax for cloth could be done in the Netherlands in the past, the Dutch linen mills now lie dormant as flax is exported to large textile factories in Asia.

The Netherlands’ role in the early days of modern global trading are also reflected upon in Gerritt Berckheyde’s oil painting of the Amsterdam Town Hall, which has been used to symbolise the wealth and power the country gained from those days.

As an expansive exhibition with a notable agenda to raise discussions, The Global Life of Design is a free exhibition and in place at the NGV International until January 29 next year. •

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Photo caption 1: Dress c.1815, cotton, wool 118.5cm (centre back), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, NGV Supporters of Fashion and Textiles, 2018.

Photo caption 2: Fan 1870-80, ostrich feathers, tortoiseshell, gold, brass, metal, 46.8 x 74.4 x 3.9cm (variable), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, The Schofield Collection, Purschased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1974.

Photo caption 3: Flax Chair designed 2015, manufactured 2017, Flax fibre (Linum usitatissimum), polylactic acid, 83.1 x 52.0 x 54.5cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased with funds donated by Gordon Moffatt AM, 2018. Photo: Christien Meindertsma.

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