Artist furniture at Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (1999)

Review of exhibition including work by Thomas Loeser, Charles Crowley, John Cederquist, Anthony Giachetti, Kristina Madsen, Michael Hurwitz, Silas Kopf and Alphonse Mattia.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - design | 15 September 2009
This review previously appeared in World Sculpture News, 5(4), p. 80 and Asian Art News, 9(5), pp. 108-09 (1999).

Artist furniture at Yale University Art Gallery

Sometimes you feel like a banana and sometimes you don’t. Yale University’s recent studio seating show included such objects as a banana-topped chair, while others like a deconstructed saw, an alligator, and a child’s toy. These were juxtaposed against quieter pieces that greatly emphasized material, refinement, and abstract furnishing forms. Organized by Kari Main, Please Be Seated consisted of 19 diverse seating elements from the Gallery’s collection developed over the past 12 years, accompanied by a 40-page catalogue.

Within the context of the eclectic seating, several fruitful issues were raised. One the one hand, the exhibition pushed the problem the categorization—such as craft, art, and furniture design—to the forefront. On the other hand, the exhibition pushed the problem of categorization—such as craft, art, and furniture design—to the forefront. On the other hand, it showed choices for approaching the task of creating studio seating. Thomas Loeser’s three-dimensional design Folding Chair and Bracket (1989)—made of plywood, maple, stainless steel, and enamel paint—is collapsible, can be hung on a wall like a relief, and looks like a postmodern puzzle composed of geometric shapes. Trained as a metalsmith, Charles Crowley offered Pair of Aluminum Chairs (1989), combining organic and geometric shapes with clean lines. For his approach, he writes, “I might make an aggressive teapot that wants to attack its user or chairs with the springy bounce of a puppy; the curve of a handle or tilt of a spout can imply the gesture needed to bring the object to life.”

John Cederquist’s Revenge of the Deconstructionist Saw Chair (1995) plays with representation and psychological reaction. With the imagery of saws and cut boards, the chair appears threatening, and far from inviting. Yet, his manipulation of materials makes the chair functional and its curious content guarantees that the chairs stands out. In fact, a great deal of the seating on view was very focal point-oriented with “look at me” designs either through their imagery, forms, or use of materials. These designs overpowered more subtle ones such as wooden benches by Anthony Giachetti (1989), Kristina Madsen (1990), Michael Hurwitz (1990), and Silas Kopf (1993). All created for the Gallery, some designers demonstrated an approach for commanding visual attention while others expressed a greater concern with refinement and lower-key experimentation.

Craft or art? Art or Design? For Alphonse Mattia, who designed the Golden Banana Valet Chair (1988), the question seemed problematic. “I refuse to answer whether my work is craft or art. I simply think of myself as a studio artist, and I call what I make studio furniture,” he said in the Christian Science Monitor (May 20, 1998). Meanwhile, the terminology and definition problems continue. How about artful craft or craftful art, or just plain studio seating?