With the rise of such colossal icons of 20th century modernist style as Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Frank Gehry, the boundary between design and art became blurred, especially for everyday objects like furniture. The form and function of furniture design garnered recognition as an important aesthetic factor of built space. Wright was sometimes so meticulous in his architectural designs that they not only included accompanying site-specific furniture, but custom-designed clothing to match the look and feel of the building as well.
Consequently, this modernist obsession with elevating industrial design to an art form has also led to an explosion of movements and styles that find artistic meaning and expression through design’s functionality. Below is a list of 10 interesting contemporary artists creating sculptures that either make use of or play on the idea of furniture, provoking us to think about the relationship between habitable space, industrial design, and art.
Yvonne Fehling and Jennie Peiz, Stuhlhockerbank, 2009
Stuhlhockerbank by the German artists/designers Yvonne Fehling and Jennie Peiz is a delightful play on form and function. Their approach to objects is a marriage of the complementary and the contradictory: “While the old and traditional served as the basis for the new and the innovative, these highly inviting and joyful conversational structures blend the intimate with the public, the historical with contemporary art and design, and the ordered with the random.”
Michael Beitz, Dining Table
Michael Beitz, It’s No Picnic Table
Michael Beitz, Cloud Chair
Michael Beitz, Dining Table
Pablo Reinoso, Spaghetti Bench, 2010
The Spaghetti Bench series is among Argentinian-born artist/designer Pablo Reinoso’s most acclaimed work. The fluidity of his installations provides an irresistible take on the latent possibilities of the interaction between everyday materials and their surroundings.
Remy Tejo, ‘You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory’ Chest of Drawers, 1991 [Image via MoMA]
Using found drawers tethered together by a belt, Remy Tejo’s wonderfully simple ‘You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory’ Chest of Drawers has been a staple of minimalist conceptions of furniture art and design since its appearance at the Milan Furniture Fair in 1991.
Hannes Van Severen, Untitled, 2008
Hannes Van Severen, Untitled, 2006
Artist and sculptor Hannes Van Severen transports the solidity and mass of furniture to a surreal and wondrous dreamworld of permeable surfaces and implausible angles. Severen suggests that his work “deprives the object of its original functionality and allows its aesthetic value to prevail.”
E/B Offices, SEAT
SEAT, a public pavilion designed by E/B Offices for Atlanta’s Freedom Park, is a meditation on the act of sitting and the interplay of industrial design and architecture. According to the artists, the seat becomes a focal point for mediating the boundary between a functional object and a designed space: “Despite the importance of sitting in the use and experience of architecture, the objects we use to sit aren’t considered architecture at all. They are relegated to the domains of industrial design or furniture as mere players in a larger architectural scene. Why the disconnect?”
Kevin Hunt, Garden Furniture
CMYBacon found this intriguing sculpture by Kevin Hunt that playfully imagines a literal take on garden furniture. While furniture is, by definition, something static and permanent, Hunt’s work is an injection of life and movement.
Brian Goggin, Herd Morality, 1994-95
In a similar vein, Brian Goggin’s installation for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco is all about making the permanent into something dynamic. Where furniture is typically “used for display, to eat from, to read and meet at, associated generally with domestic sobriety,” Goggin’s art evokes the impression that “the tables have turned. Escaped, they run together, alive and searching, like a herd of wild buffalo roaming across the urban plains, they spill in waves off the sides of the Center for the Arts, jumping from one roof to another, down to and across the courtyard below.”
Karen Ryan, In The Woods, 2009
Spotted on Dezeen, Karen Ryan’s In The Woods is “a reaction to the ever increasing consumer mountain of design and design waste.” The piece piles high the modern relationship between material and accumulation.
Ai Weiwei, 20 Chairs From The Qing Dynasty, 2009 [Image via Zimbio]
The politically defiant Ai Weiwei is known for irreverently challenging the blind glorification of tradition, the forces of cultural and civil repression, and the permeation of consumerism in contemporary Chinese society, famously painting Coca-Cola logos on a Han Dynasty vase. With 20 Chairs From The Qing Dynasty, he continues this controversial mashup of traditional objects and politically charged artistic expression.