[Jo Holder, Robert Freestone and Joan Kerr. Craftsman House, 2003. $66.
Jo Holder, Robert Freestone and Joan Kerr. Craftsman House, 2003. $66.
Reading this compilation of Molnar’s life work is a joy. George Molnar was an architect, cartoonist, writer and teacher. His cartoons appeared in the daily press from the 1950s through to the 1980s and they comprised a commentary on the issues of the day. Molnar, with a background and continuing interest in architecture, used his cartoons to make particular comment on the planning instruments that guided Sydney developments. Much of the charm of this book comes from these cartoons, and the continuing relevance and incisiveness of his observations to the people and events of his time and today.
The book was inspired by an exhibition with the same name, in 2001, of Molnar’s cartoons in the City Exhibition Space at Customs House, Sydney. The book expands on the exhibition, placing the cartoons in chronological order and locating them within their historical context. Coverage of each decade is preceded by commentary which provides background to the issues explored in the cartoons, supplies further insight to the creation of the cartoons, from Molnar’s personal viewpoint, and outlines the external instruments of power that Molnar worked within and but also criticised.
The book also includes a selection of Molnar’s later works where he uses the medium of watercolour, rather than the black and white of his cartooning days. However, even as an artist, Molnar does not discard the culture of commentary drawn from his cartooning history and he often includes captions to his watercolours which give them an additional dimension, often a fresh jibe at the ridiculousness of the human condition.
The book ends with a selection of extracts of essays written by Molnar. What amazes is the contrast between these two forms of comment – where Molnar’s cartoons have continuing relevance to our trials and tribulations today, his writings seem dated and their ideas outmoded.
The tone of the commentary is, understandably, tinged by nostalgia. It is also slightly apologetic, as it explains the cultural climate in which Molnar lived and how it was possible for him to create a strong public debate about the built space of the city.
This debate is what we, as architects wish we could engender today. Next year is the Year of the Built Environment and we have the Herculean task of trying to inspire the public in the same way Molnar did in his 30 years of cartooning. My lasting impression of the book is that I wish that we could have a Molnar of our time.
ARCHITECTURE ON CAMPUS A GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE AND ITS COLLEGES