The National Gallery of Victoria launches a new show, 'Creating the Contemporary Chair', featuring key design pieces from the Space Furniture collection, including the Ghost chair by Cini Boeri, the Rose chair by Masanori Umeda, and the Post Mundus chair by Martino Gamper. Examining the history and cultural connections through design, this show also asks, with so many great chairs in production, why are designers still so interested in designing them?
'Creating the Contemporary Chair: The Gordon Moffatt Gift' brings together a vast collection of chairs, including 35 new acquisitions from four decades covering the 1980s up to 2016. Covering five narratives – Invention, Individualism, Lineage, Idealism and Diffusion – the exhibition provides a way to explore and understand the themes that impact designers, and gives insights into the thinking behind each piece – as well as their significance as markers of design evolution and as objects embedded with meaning, expression, experimentation and utility.
The earliest chair in the collection is the famous Ghost chair designed in 1987 by Cini Boeri for Fiam. A maverick in her own right, Cini was one of the few women collaborating with manufacturers in the early days of industrial design, and she is responsible for some of the most remarkable designs produced, including the 1979 Compasso D'Oro-winning Strips collection for Arflex.
Joining the Ghost chair, the Rose chair and Alice chair by Edra, the Post Mundus chair by Martino Gamper for GTV, and the Kartell Louis Ghost chair by Philippe Starck, are all pieces from the Space collection chosen for the exhibition and acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria for their permanent collection.
Simone LeAmon, Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture at the NGV, and the gallery's curatorial team didn’t set the themes to begin with, instead they started with a list of chairs that Simone describes as "no brainers". This included the Rose chair by Edra that has become an icon of post-modernism. "There is nothing that makes sense", remarks Simone. "it’s a parody, a provocation. it says 'let’s make a chair that’s a big flower'" It also demonstrates that the role of a chair is more than just for function, it also provides a way to express an idea. In this case it heralded a whole movement against the strictness of modernism.
Sometimes it's the unexpected pieces that draw on history. Curiously it is the Martino Gamper Post Mundus chair that beautifully connects us with its maker – Thonet – and the first truly mass produced Chair 16 made in the late 1800s, and now one of the world's most recognisable café chairs. By reworking the structure, Martino Gamper has taken three backs and used them to create legs and a new typology.
"The Post Mundus chair is a deliberate approach to upscale value in something i love the fact Martino Gamper has taken the icon chair and hacked it and made it his own using design as a communicator", enthuses Simone. "it’s the perfect chair in the gallery because if allows you to talk about so many things."
French designer Philippe Starck also features with his Louis Ghost chair for Kartell. The piece that rocketed the Kartell group to international prominence in the early 2000s is all about invention, and a huge leap of faith for the group.
"The Louis Ghost chair was a technological feat when it was made, and it is also one of Philippe Stack’s great achievements", remarks Simone. "Ironically it is also one of the most copied chairs in the world. I wanted to put this in the theme of Invention because of its manufacturing achievement and intellectual rigour."
'Creating the Contemporary Chair' is a transformative look at design. It reminds us that at this point in time when things are being exploited and copied, undermining the business models of the great manufacturers and designers, it's good to pause and get inside the mind of the maker, to connect with their inventiveness and those technical and intellectual marvels they produce – this is design at its best and it's a fascinating cultural barometer of the times.
Creating The Contemporary Chair opened at the National Gallery of Victoria on 17 March and is open daily until November, 2017. The exhibition is also supported by a series of talks, workshops and design events.