‘We will never look at a chair in the same way again’ say Arts Society Newbury
Arts Society Newbury lecture, Angela Findlay: The Empty Chair in Contemporary Art: From Vincent van Gogh to Ai Weiwei
at Arlington Arts
Review by ALAN CHILDS
“YOU may never look at a chair the same way again,” lecturer and artist Angela Findlay told The Arts Society Newbury as she showed how even the plainest domestic furniture has been used to express a range of themes through the artistic movements of the past 135 years.
In 1888, while living with Paul Gauguin in Arles, Vincent van Gogh painted a pair of chairs to reflect the artists’ differing personalities. His light, rustic seat with pipe and tobacco contrasted with his picture of Gaugin’s darker, elaborate chair, with its bookish references.
For Surrealist Rene Magritte the chair was part of his mission to bring new meaning to familiar things and his goache series of a tiny contemporary chair perched on a huge stone chair expressed the relatively minor role of humans in the history of the universe.
For Joseph Bueys, self-declared shaman and opponent of rational thought, his Fat Chairs – literally chairs covered in different layers and shapes of fat – displayed his desire to establish an “extended definition of art”, while Andy Warhol used repeated images of an electric chair in ‘pretty’ colours to show how perceptions of death and destruction can be changed by the media and advertising.
For the conceptualists such as Joseph Kosuth – for whom the artwork is “pure information and idea” – the chair is used to engage us with thinking about the ordinary in our life. For Robert Rauschenberg, actual chairs were used in his paintings to bring art and the real world closer together.
Ai Weiwei’s traditional yoke chair carved in marble subverts a common Chinese object to tie East and West together in an “elegant gesture” and his works with abandoned traditional Chinese stools are a convergence of old and new, stability and change, control and personal freedom.
And of course, all around the world empty chairs stand as memorials to victims of violence, war or as reminders of the missing.
We will indeed never look at a chair in the same way again.