Chairs are often viewed as simple functional objects, but in their design is thoughtful craftsmanship. An overview of American chair design, The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design, is on view at the Georgia Museum of Art
at the University of Georgia until January 3, 2021. This exhibition, featuring more than 40 chairs dating from the early 19th century to present day, showcases chairs as art, highlighting their sculptural beauty. The exhibition The Seated Child: Early Childrens Chairs from Georgia Collections, organized by the museums curator of decorative arts, Dale L. Couch, occupies an adjoining gallery.
Developed by Ben Thompson, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, The Art of Seating provides audiences with a unique opportunity to see chair types that usually reside in private homes, withheld from public display. Thompson chose these chairs from the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen Ph.D. Foundations collection for their beauty and historical context, showing an array of social, economic, political and cultural influences. Annelies Mondi, the museums deputy director and in-house curator of the exhibition, said, Chairs can tell us a lot about a time and place when you examine the material the craftspeople had access to and study what was available in their area. They can also reveal much about the owner of a chair, such as social status and occupation.
The works of art in The Art of Seating relate a compelling story about American history, the evolution of design and incredible artistry and craftsmanship. The chairs in the exhibition feature a variety of materials, including acrylic, fiberglass, leather, metal and wood. They offer a stylistic journey through the past two centuries of furniture, with showstoppers by John Henry Belter, George Hunzinger, the Herter brothers, the Stickley brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi, Frank Gehry and others. The exhibition also features contemporary and historic designs by some of the biggest manufacturers such as Knoll, Herman Miller and Steelcase.
While discussing the Rocking Stool from 1958, designed by Isamu Noguchi and manufactured by Knoll Associates, Mondi mentions that many of these chairs combine ideas of comfort, ergonomics and health. The craftspeople and designers were focused on practical as well as aesthetic concerns and often experimented with new materials and technologies.
The Art of Seating is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, in collaboration with the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen Ph.D. Foundation and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C. International Arts & Artists in Washington, DC, is a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally, through exhibitions, programs and services to artists, arts institutions and the public.
The Seated Child presents about two dozen childrens chairs as well as a dolls chair and adult chairs for comparison of scale and style. Not all these chairs were made in Georgia but all are in Georgia collections, and most of them were handmade. Rather than being pristine, they retain their life histories, showing wear from being used as a support while children were learning to walk. Where The Art of Seating follows the history of design and manufacturing from the individual craftsperson to industrial production beginning in the mid-19th century to the American Studio Craft Movement of the 20th century and beyond, to the present, The Seated Child demonstrates collective traditions and the continuity of style over time. The two exhibitions complement and expand one another.