The Art of Mid-Century Design by Clement Meadmore
The first thing you see in The Art of Mid-Century Design is a chair. It’s simply built, with a steel frame and a corded weave seat and back, presented on a podium floodlit white from below. Behind it is a huge portrait of the artist sitting on that chair in the 1950s. He’s bearded, handsome and lean, wearing a white t-shirt. The combination highlights the stark simplicity of the design, but also the image of Meadmore as a design rockstar.

Melbourne’s mid-century furniture design boom has been well-served in the galleries lately, with Heide’s recent look back at Grant and Mary Featherston and the State Library’s current exhibition of Peter Willie’s photographs. This retrospective of designer Clement Meadmore’s work focuses on his Australian career before he left for New York in the ‘60s, leaving furniture behind to become a renowned sculptor.

The ground floor galleries here at the Ian Potter are all chairs, tables and lamps – simple, sharp, brilliant examples of function and simplicity. Some components are so thin they’re near-invisible. Upstairs, Meadmore’s work gets more holistic, more playful and ultimately more inward-looking. We see two shopfronts he designed in their entirety in the ‘50s, the Legend Espresso Bar and The Tea House, which incorporate lighting, fittings and even other artworks. Meadmore’s early sculptural works are, by contrast, conspicuous in their lack of practical function. But by the time he graduates to jazz record sleeves, the artist's visual style comes together.

The Art of Mid-Century Design is at the Ian Potter Museum of Art until March 24.

Cataract by Daniel von Sturmer
A basketball is thrown against concrete, a teddy bear bounces on a trampoline, ants shuffle on the ground, fireworks shoot into the sky. Across 81 screens at Anna Schwartz Gallery, you’ll find 81 contained and completely unremarkable short films, each a few seconds long. Some are staged, some are caught in the moment, and none are cinematically realised. They’re all plainly shot on an iPhone, and with all the screens laid out in a huge grid, it looks like an Instagram profile writ large.

The mundane images loop, sync up and interact in unpredictable ways. Von Sturmer tells me it’s about how the brain draws connections and sees patterns. “Out in the world, we’re selective,” he says. “We’re not attentive to everything that happens. We construct a narrative around us. We tune into different things.”

With no context or explanation, my eyes drift toward the more mysterious images: rain through the glare of a street light, ink blots on a page, hazard tape blowing in the wind. My brain curates a little show within the cacophony.

Upstairs, a light dances across the wall. Then it’s a straight line, cut up by the uneven ceiling, by a hanging power cable, by the shape of the door. The room is completely empty except for a little knee-high robot swinging around in the corner, projecting sequences of light, catching me in it more than a few times. My presence in the room becomes part of the projection, adding my shadow to the work for just a moment.

Cataract is at Anna Schwartz Gallery until March 23.

Crowd Theory by Simon Terrill
For fourteen years, photographer Simon Terrill has been staging vast Crowd Theory events, where he invites urban community groups to act out how they see themselves. Only the time is specified, so that Terrill can be on hand with a camera.

This exhibition looks at the stories created so far, and it's a fascinating record of communities in action, however disparate and varied, with added insight into how people consciously project identity. At Footscray Community Arts Centre, some grey-haired locals tend a garden, while a teenager in a hoodie rides a bike across the torsos of some mates. At Balfron Tower in London in 2010, Terrill captures people in apartment windows and balconies, living in close proximity to – but seemingly unaware of – their neighbours.

These images recall the work of Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder: lots of tiny figures adding up to a social commentary, albeit with less demonic torture.

Crowd Theory is at CCP until March 31.

The Tennis Piece by Atlanta Eke
The French Revolution meets the Australian Open this month at Gertrude Contemporary, where Atlanta Eke has converted part of the gallery into a tennis-club-slash-dance-space for a playful performance piece.

On June 20, 1789, in the early days of the French Revolution, members of France's downtrodden Third Estate (or commoners, who made up 98 per cent of the population) got together on a tennis court and made a vow: “Not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established." It was a key moment in the struggle that followed.

Eke’s award-winning, provocative dance pieces have been performed everywhere from Hobart’s Mona Foma to Performa in New York. This one involves four dancers, four tennis ball machines, 400 tennis balls, and a robotic lute, and frames the tennis court as a place of revolutionary struggle.

The Tennis Piece is at Gertrude Contemporary from February 8 until March 23. Live performances will take place on February 8 and 9, and March 2 and 9. After the performances at Gertrude Contemporary, an expanded version of The Tennis Piece will premiere as part of Dance Massive, from March 19 to 21.

Carny
Neon Parc curator Geoff Newton was inspired by the obscure for his latest show, which is spread across two galleries, one in the city and one in Brunswick.

Carny is an off-beat 1980 film about a young waitress (Jodie Foster) running away with the circus. Like the film, this show explores the dark underbelly of old-school carnivals, lowbrow spaces populated by misfits, mavericks and weirdos.

In the city, artist Hayley Arjona’s psychedelic punk painting is a two-and-a-half metre cut-out of poor taste and fluorescent glare, depicting a little girl smoking a huge green joint, a three-eyed figure mooning you, and a braying unicorn. It also functions as one of those carnival curios where you pop your head into a gap to put yourself into the image.

Surrounding smaller works by Spencer Lai are cut out of felt, presenting shadow-puppet-like appropriations of other artists’ work: a religious scene, an image of a mental institution, some 16th-century Japanese pornography and a lovely bunch of blue flowers. Nick Mullaly paints in candy colours, his gaudy Push Me showing a row of brightly-coloured legs and heeled boots – a threatening image wrapped up in a rainbow. Hana Earl’s messy black canvas has cat ears and a tail, and purple text that reads “Meow!” in friendly yet forbidding letters.

Carny is at Neon Parc City until March 2, and Neon Parc Brunswick from February 8 until March 9.