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Exhibition review: MATTERS, Villa Alba Museum

Where contemporary design breathed life into the old charm of a heritage mansion.
Installation view, 'MATTERS' at Villa Alba Museum as part of 2024 Melbourne Design Week. Photo: Sean Fennessy. Carved timber sculptures resembling table surfaces inside a heritage architecture setting.

The contemporary design exhibition at the Villa Alba Museum in Kew is an annual highlight of Melbourne Design Week’s program. From furniture to experimental design, the exhibition elegantly and harmoniously situates the work of contemporary designers and makers within the 19th century architecture of the Museum, celebrating innovation among legacy.

The 2024 iteration, MATTERS, presented the works of Tom Fereday, Thomas Maxam, Object Density, Adam Goodrum and more. Fereday’s carved timber sculptures and furniture designs brought in the softness of natural beauty against geometric, minimalist forms, and added a zen-like ambiance to Villa Alba’s elaborate interior. Meanwhile, the modular ceramic tables of Object Density were an ode to the natural landscapes of the Netherlands, embracing imperfection through utilising “glass fines”, a waste by-product of the glass recycling industry.

Monotypes by Zella Casey Brown seamlessly tied in with Ben McCarthy and Marcel Sigel’s furniture and lighting designs, adding a fun splash to colour near Villa Alba’s ground level entry way.

Ellia Rich x DesignByThem’s Weaver Cabinet occupied the Shower Room on the upper level, while in the Lavatory, Dean Norton’s polished mirror surfaces played on light and reflection.

(SOME THINGS) was the second iteration of a three-year instalment group show within the broader design exhibition at Villa Alba and, this time, it had clearly matured from the inaugural presentation. Here, Australian designers and makers tackled the topic of “process”, laying bare the material and conceptual experimentation of their work. The presentation always has an undertone of alchemy, and helps to dissect the tactile aspects of innovation in design.

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Perhaps the only downside of MATTERS was its short four-day duration, and now we will have to wait another year for contemporary design to take over this treasured venue.

MATTERS was presented as part of 2024 Melbourne Design Week from 24-27 May.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_