“A chair is a very difficult object,” Mies van der Rohe once quipped. “A skyscraper is almost easier.” Of course, he was sneering at Philip Johnson’s iconoclastic AT&T Building, which completely upended Mies’s precious straight-lined Modernism with its “Chippendale” crown. Canonical architecture shade aside, Mies has a point: Chairs present an agonizing design challenge.
For centuries, the function of a chair has remained fairly consistent: they seat people. Chairs may appear simple to the untrained eye, but their design and construction are beguilingly complex, embodying the most sacred meeting of form and function. They need to offer ergonomic support, be structurally sound, and look stellar from every angle, whether one prefers George Nakashima’s humanistic contours or the complex modernism of our friend Mies. It’s an object that allows for near-limitless diversity in terms of structure, material, and process.
The Future Perfect has set out to explore this spectrum. The contemporary design gallery’s latest group exhibition, aptly titled “The Chair,” gave more than 40 international artists, industrial designers, ceramists, sculptors, and interior designers carte blanche to create a single chair of their own imagination. “It’s an incredible canvas for a designer to express themselves with,” says gallery director Laura Young, who admits the ask is far from simple. “The chair is open to such wide and varied interpretation—the challenge implies an infinite number of solutions.”
The final selected works range from fully functional examples to pieces of pure art and sculpture—expect never-before-seen forms and statement pieces. “We didn’t intend this, but the show has the feeling of being a survey of contemporary design,” says founder David Alhadeff with a laugh. “It’s very fresh and playful.”Indeed. Chris Wolston, a sculptor who splits his time between Brooklyn and Medellín, took the brief and ran with it—all the way to the Amazon, where he harvested the wicker used to weave a playful piece with curvaceous anatomical features. Dutch designer Floris Wubben, on the other hand, appears to recast the language of Pierre Jeanneret in pastel ceramic, a material not usually considered suitable to sit on.
In its mission to explore a humble object’s uncharted territory, “The Chair” seems to upend preconceived notions of how chairs should look and feel. It’s also proof positive that tomorrow’s design greats are intent on transcending traditional parameters of form and function. Consider each piece a breath of fresh air within a regimented marketplace that tends to take itself too seriously. “It’s like a great buffet,” says Young. “There’s something for everyone.”
“The Chair” will display April 30–June 1 at the Future Perfect, 55 Great Jones Street, New York.