Comfort Zone

About the Exhibition

Comfort Zone: Furniture by Artists is an exhibition of 30 years of artist-designed furniture at the PaineWebber Galleries.

In a May 2, 1999 article, Paula Deitz from The New York Times stated, “What appears simple at first—artists exploring functionality in everyday life—turns out to be complex: things aren’t always as they appear…They designed for themselves as a way to control their lives and their environment. Viewers are warned that to understand these pieces is going to require close attention.

“The designs on view represent each artist’s oeuvre in microcosm. For example, Robert Rauschenberg’s ”Tire Lamp,” a discarded automobile tire with a rim of light glowing from its interior, sums up his penchant for incorporating found objects in his installations. In the same vein, Isamu Noguchi’s low chess table, with its flowing lines, epitomizes his free-form sculptures and lyrical stage sets. And Alberto Giacometti’s lamp in the shape of a woman’s head suggests his cast bronze sculpture and the decorative objects that his brother Diego later produced.

“Although the furniture seems to function at a practical level, elements often do not cohere in a normal fashion. This quirkiness builds a tension that engages the viewer’s imagination. David Deutsch’s Folding, Writing Desk looks like a beach chair with vinyl webbing before its intended purpose becomes apparent. Renee Green’s antique chairs covered in toile could furnish a stately dining room, except that the toile subtly depicts scenes from the slave trade. On first glance, the light bulbs framing the mirror of Dennis Adams’s Vanity for Jean Seberg, an actress’s dressing table, appear to be reflected in the glass counter, but in fact, the line of bulbs continues below the counter surface. The effect is like seeing a reflection become tangible.

“R. M. Fischer’s lamps reconfigure off-the-shelf parts into hybridized objects that give new meanings to ordinary forms. Situated at the entrance to the exhibit, his roly-poly collection of white globes of light, topped by a single red one, serves as a beacon lighting the way into the show. He succeeds in achieving his stated goal of ‘giving personality to an object that would otherwise be inert’; the lamp has all the charm of a good snowman.

“Charles Long casts two identical abstract concrete forms and leaves one as a sculpture while transforming the other into a lamp that looks like an animal with a tail made of electric wire.

“Lest one think that the exhibition consists entirely of contemporary-looking works, Brian Tolle has made an art of reinventing revival styles for the present. Playing with the notion of public and private, he has designed a square Gothic revival bed that combines 19th-century church architecture with domestic forms of that period. With his cabinetmaker’s skill, he mastered the task of making a bed that also serves as a prie-dieu.

“With artists’ furniture, the form-follows-function formula is expanded by personal experience and experimental ideas. For some time now, Andrea Zittel has exhibited her A-Z Living Units that provide the user, according to her sales brochure, ‘total comfort and function within a portable and customized structure.’ These fold-away room settings that combine living space, kitchen and dining facilities, bed and bath are immensely satisfying to anyone who yearns to make life more compact and manageable.

“On view is the original unit she designed for herself when she lived at the back of a storefront studio in Brooklyn in 1991 and bred chickens in the front as her art. Her work is founded in the belief that modern design derives from the simplicity of the pared-down settings associated with poverty. For her, such design is a glamorization of limitations. One wants to crawl into the cozy environment Ms. Zittel has created. She sees it not as a reduction of material life, but as moving toward an ideal. That concept could be the motto for the show.”



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