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Monday 06.28.10

« Getting it across | Main | First Thursday Picks July 2010 »

Contemplating the furniture

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 about them.

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

Jessica 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)

Laura 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.

Oregon 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 Dregs 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.

Info_Center_Diehl.jpgCarl Diehl's Cracked Memex
Carl Diehl's strange sci-fi workstations 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.

Tracy Cockrell's typewriters, tables and park bench situations mix the indoor and outdoor vernaculars.

Avantika Bawa often uses Judd-like or Ikea chairs and perspective devices. I like how her use of furniture is essentially a prompt for perception based inquiry.

Karl Burkheimer's 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.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 28, 2010 at 13:14 | Comments (0)


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