I've noticed a thread of furniture art in Portland over the last decade and
while it's by no means unique (artists like Robert Rauschenbeg, Rachel Harrison,
Donald Judd, Anne Hamilton, Roy Mc Makin, Damien Hirst, Carol Bove, Inigo Manglano
Ovalle, Kiki Smith, Tom Sachs, Vito Acconci, Ed Keinholz, Jessica Stockholder
etc. all use/design furniture) it bears taking a closer look. Yes, recent art
school grads do a lot of furniture art but I tend to wait a bit before writing
In most cases these artists use furniture to evoke another time in a fit of nostalgia
or design the furniture to shift one's sense of what the present or future really
represents. Ultimately, their use of furniture in every case represents itself
as a kind of a social order or a proscribed protocol for behavior in their midst...
making these installation artists a bit like B.F. Skinner style behaviorists subjecting
their viewers to an environment. As design elements the furniture suggests a kind
of logic or worldview. In the case of Portland most of these artists are indeed
interested in design and it's behavioral/ergonomic ramifications on us as dwellers
in the built environment. There are lots of artists that put things on tables
but all listed below go a few steps further, litterally turning furniture into
another world, not merely some display device.
Jessica Jackson Hutchins' Love Seat Couple
Jackson Hutchins' work
plumbs the way furniture acts as a kind of surrogate
icon for our private lives at home and a kind of relentless nostalgia. It has
an updated Ed Keinholz vibe that is more domestic than Keinholz's trademark antidisetablishmentarian.
Overall it's the way it fetishes its own existential insecurity that makes it
effective. There is a definite classic funky California ceramics thing going
on here as well and from time to time it feels half homey/half museum of antiquities.
Laura Fritz's Evident (photo Jim Lomasson)
Fritz designs her mysterious furniture
to ergonomically shift scale and
test perception. They are almost always paradoxical monoliths of doubt, leaving
the viewers mental room to engage in apophenia (i.e. letting you mind run wild
with theories supported or not). Though the work feels uniquely sci-fi I often
describe her work as the unholy union of Alfred Hitchcock and Donald Judd because
of the relentless suspense and austerity... giving it an existential cinematic
quality along with the video.
Painting Society's furniture
seem like 60's or 70's sci fi mashups... the
products of Quakers from the future and a more ghettoized Frank Lloyd Wright
sensibility. Their furniture have a very retro kind of futuristic vibe.
Brandy Cochran's "Beloved Mother"
Brandy Cochran's beloved mother chair from The
literally mined the silky undergarments of its former owner to haunt
this comfy chair. The personal undergarments were turned into tentacle forms.
It's a strategy Tracy Emin made popular... using craft and diaristic elements
to create an inversion between one's private life a more public spectacle.
Josh Smith's "The Righteous Foundation of Us"
Josh Smith designs high end furniture so this
model for a retro-futuristic city
riffing on hat box forms as a quasi-cabinet
was a natural extension of his ideas.
Nathaniel Shapiro tends to shift
his furniture's utilitarian function by making the crucial stuctural element out of something unexpected
... there's metaphor of ergonmics at work here.
Vanessa Renwick's House
of Sound installation
simply took vintage 70's furniture to recreate a living
room vibe for people to chill out in. Furniture can easily be overdone but Vanessa
showed a lot of good taste here.
Bruce Conkle and Marne Lucas' tanning bed reminded me a bit of OPS who had
a similar Dr. Who vibe. Conkle's work is more deadpan funny and environmentally
conscious than the trippier OPS though. Here the dynamic "Blinglab"
duo seems to be lampooning and celebrating the paradoxical California hippy
vibe... Something Hutchins does too.
Vanessa Calvert's weird ergonomics seem a little related to Fritz and Avantika
Bawa's work but are more Rene Magritte-ish in their surreal quality. She's started
to do some really interesting things though she's a relatively recent MFA.
Storm Tharp's "The Dresser (sftkbdp)"
Storm Tharp has always had an eye for fashion and his "Dresser"
from his solo show at PDX in 2009
definitely used it as surrogate for his
two fictional character's lives.
Carl Diehl's Cracked Memex
Carl Diehl's strange
are a bit like the Oregon Painting society's but more
sinister... similar to Fritz's. The difference is Diehl assaults you with too much
information whereas Fritz is infinitely more restrained. Of the three OPS is
most campy, whereas Diehl's work is very paranoia inducing.
typewriters, tables and park bench
situations mix the indoor and outdoor
Avantika Bawa often uses Judd-like or Ikea chairs and perspective devices. I like how
is essentially a prompt for perception based inquiry.
meditations on form and function
bridge the conceptual gap between craft
and contemplation, which then becomes installation art.
Let me know if you can think of anyone else who makes significant use of furniture and I'll add them.