The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Chair Design

June 10, 2011 - September 3, 2011
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The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Chair Design

Within the American home and workplace, chairs are usually regarded as simple, utilitarian objects that provide seating and a modicum of comfort. This exhibition offers a fascinating historical survey of artistic, technical and engineering developments in American decorative styles. The chair emerges as a complex artistic invention that embodies American ingenuity in design and reflects a variety of socio-cultural, economic and political values.

Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, the Art of Seating includes more than 40 distinctive chairs selected from the Jacobsen American Chair Collection. The Figge Art Museum will be the first museum venue to host this significant exhibition on its national touring schedule.

A large portion of the exhibition highlights trends in Victorian design, noted for its eclectic revival modes and lush, intricate ornamentation. Examples include the exotic Oriental Peacock Lady’s Reception Chair, c. 1855, and the Gothic Revival Arm Chair, c. 1854-55.

At the turn of the century, the ornate formality of Victorian furniture was replaced by a radical modern sensibility associated with the Viennese Secession and the American Arts and Crafts movement. Rejecting the anonymity and inferior quality of industrial mass production, these trends stressed purity of form and unique handmade methods of fabrication, as seen in the Stickley Brothers Oxbow Arm Chair, c. 1903.

In contrast to the Arts and Crafts movement, modernist 20th-century innovations in chair design were strongly influenced by the industrial machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus. This exhibition includes modernist chairs by such renowned architects and designers as Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Harry Bertoia. Utilizing streamlined geometric forms to revolutionize chair design, they also sought to enhance the physical comfort of modern American furniture by experimenting with ergonomic engineering principles. A prime example of this progressive development is Wright’s 1938 chair for the Johnson Wax Company, which used oval and tubular elements resembling the company building’s striking interior columns. During the 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames explored new industrialized materials and methods of construction, and used inventive techniques like molded plywood to create their famed LCW “Potato Chip” Lounge Chair that was hailed as the “Chair of the Century.”

Modern chair design reflects a democratizing impulse in post-war American consumer culture, which demanded a new emphasis on casual informality combined with stylistic sophistication and affordable products. In the Postmodern era of the 1970s and 1980s, Frank Gehry’s High Stool and Robert Venturi’s Sheraton Chair signify a playful rejection of modernism’s functionalism and formal austerity.

The chairs in this exhibition will be presented in an historical context through a multimedia display of patent drawings, documented upholstery, period photographs and informative interpretive labels. Hosting The Art of Seating reflects the Figge’s mission to showcase unique forms of American craft and culture.

This exhibition will continue through September 4, 2011

Related Events

Free Guided Art Activity
6 pm Thursday, August 18 • “A Chair for Your Shelf”

Parent & Child Gallery Search

Download this guide to enhance your family's experience as you explore the Art of Seating exhibition. Learn more about the diversity of this exhibition as you go on a scavenger hunt to find the right seat.

Sponsored by Sears Manufacturing, Paragon Commercial Interiors, Inc., and Rick Bowers.

The Art of Seating is developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville and the Jacobsen Collection of American Art; tour organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.

images: Designed by Thomas E. Warre, manufactured by the American Chair Co. (1829-1958), Troy, New York, Centripetal Spring Arm Chair, c. 1850, photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew Van Styn, director of acquisitions, conservation, and photography

Designed by Warren McArthur, manufactured by Warren McArthur Corporation, Rome, New York, Sling Seat Lounge Chair, c. 1935, Patent March 31, 1936, photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew Van Styn, director of acquisitions, conservation, and photography

Unknown designer, manufacturer attributed to Pottier & Stymus and Company, est. 1859, New York City, Egyptian Revival Side Chair, c. 1875, photo by Michael Koryta, Andrew Van Styn, director of acquisitions, conservation, and photography

Past Exhibitions

Orientation Gallery
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