Digital Resources

Melbourne Modern: European art & design at RMIT since 1945 (Part 2 of tour)

28 August 2019


Exhibition at RMIT Gallery from 21 June – 17 August 2019


Melbourne Modern: European Art & Design at RMIT since 1945 reveals the extraordinary legacy of the many hundreds of exiled and displaced European artists, architects and designers who arrived in Australia, and in particular Melbourne, in the grim aftermath of World War II.

Many found employment in the leading Australian institutions, including Melbourne Technical College (later renamed Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), such as influential industrial designer Gerard Herbst who was forced to leave Germany after assisting a Jewish family following Kristallnacht, and was later honoured by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1995. He taught at RMIT from 1948 until he retired in 1976.

Melbourne Modern co-author Professor Harriet Edquist said that RMIT became ‘a home away from home’ for the émigrés, who supported each other with work and connections at the institution, and left an enormous legacy.

The European impact is most evident in the gold and silversmithing program at RMIT, which under the guidance of Czech goldsmith Vaclav Victor Vodicka, who migrated to Australia in 1950 as a displaced person under the International Refugee Organisation program, developed into the most successful and influential gold and silversmithing program in post-war Australia.

Similarly, the impact spanning three decades of post-World War II European émigré teachers Teisutis Zikaras, Vincas Jomantas, Hermann Hohaus and Inge King in the sculpture department was profound.

Between them they had studied in the academies and art schools of Kaunas, Vilnius, Berlin, Munich, London and Glasgow and inherited a centuries-old discourse of sculpture as a proxy for the human figure.