1 furniture in art 27 February 2013 stephen garrett dewyer The institutions that present art and the publics of such institutions are not necessarily a given. In some efforts to change the delivery mechanism of certain works and, inversely, the publics for such works, artists attempted and continue to attempt to decide the ways in which their work engages a public (and not others). The works arranging transactions using furniture, if not, directly, architecture, attempt to cause an (in)decision meant to transform a public. Some of the works turn the trap of the isolated artist onto the public. Other works attempt to intervene in the architecture of a work to propose an alternate purpose. In both cases, the role of furniture has become implemental. Altering the architecture of an institution while propping a habit either broken or mended, the furniture of many works demonstrates an almost mechanistic transformation of behavior in contradistinction to the delivery mechanisms of the museum, gallery and exhibition space. While the Bauhaus and Soviet Constructivism produced furniture, such as in Aleksandr Rodchenko s Workers Club, 1925, (figs. 1 & 2), the use of furniture in art as delivery mechanism for the work happens noticeably in the works of Vito Acconci, Dennis Adams, Michael Asher, Miles Huston, Nancy Lupo and Olga Koumoundouros from the 1970s through today in the U.S. and Europe. The critical turn against modernism s privileging of self-reflexivity in the autonomous object caused artists interested in the politics of their work to pursue non-art locations during the 1970s using land. The remote locations of the works became problematic, however, for their inaccessibility and reliance on documentation. To counter the remote locations of much of the works using land, artists, with assistance
2 2 from institutions, extended their works into the street. In an analysis of 1980s, Kate Linker writes of a split in the art of the 1980s along the lines of Neo-Expressionism and art decentering the artist: For all the attempts to unify the 1980s, the decade will be known as deeply divided, as a period that produced two antithetical approaches to the practice of art. On one hand, a bullish market gave new prominence to painting, stimulating a Neo-Expressionist style centered on the artist s person The notions of singularity, authority, and creativity that were pivotal to the ideology of modernism (and essential to its market mechanisms) were rewritten to legitimize a style of simulated sensation, and to return attention to exhibition spaces devalued during the 1970s the gallery and private home. But on the other hand, the decade saw the development of art that negated the primacy of the author to attend to the viewer concentrated on the conditions of the reception of art [T]hroughout the decade, sculpture nods toward furniture and collides with architecture; it entertains relations with other disciplines that are motivated by social pertinence and use The space between artwork and audience which we might describe as a social space, constituted by convention and representation emerged to new prominence in artistic practice (Vito Acconci. p. 111). I argue the works meant to cause an action by a participant are reminiscent of the works in soviet constructivism meant to give form to a new and revolutionary subject. However, transaction differs from the monumental activities devised by the works in soviet constructivism. For instance, in a number of bus terminals Dennis Adams made in the 1980s (figs. 3 7), the terminals international style of modernism contrasts with transparencies featuring images of protest and demonstration found in mass media. Adams admits to subconsciously having modernist 1 influences but the use of mass media images of protesters and demonstrators subverts the high-low divide in the acculturation of modernism, the divide between the avant-garde and the popular. Neither postmodernist nor modernist, but supplementing the avant-garde with images of demonstrations against mass consumer culture found in mass media, the works using furniture differ from the activism ascribed to modernism in the banality of the actions they propose. figure 1 figure 2 1 In an interview between Peter Doroshenko and Dennis Adams, Adams responds: Modernism functions as the formal unconscious of my work. It was the first style that visually asserted itself when I was a child (Dennis Adams: Selling History. p. 10).
3 3 Aleksandr Rodchenko Workers Club, 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris The banality of the actions proposed in the works using furniture turn aesthetic the banal social habits that contribute to mass movements. Whereas the modernist furniture designs become prototypes for future production, the furniture used in works as proposals for action is not prototypical. Instead, the works often refer to particular identities that might use the work at a particular location. figure 3
4 4 Dennis Adams Bus Shelter I, 1983 Broadway & 66 th Street, New York aluminum, wood, enamel, stainless steel hardware, plastic, fluorescent light, color transparency of text and black & white transparency of Holocaust survivors demonstrating figure 4 figure 5
5 5 Dennis Adams Bus Shelter II, th Street & Third Avenue, New York aluminum, wood, enamel, stainless steel hardware, plastic, fluorescent light, color transparencies of text and black & white transparencies of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their arrest figure 6 figure 7 Dennis Adams Bus Shelter VIII, 1988 Queens & Bay Streets, Toronto Aluminum, smoked and clear high-tempered glass, galvanized steel hardware, plastic, fluorescent light and black & white transparency of native Canadians protesting outside the Parliament building in Ottawa
6 6 In the way the works are not prototypical they attempt to make aesthetic the propositions of a transaction. The actions ascribed to such works do not serve as prototypes since the furniture propose a set of behaviors a participant may (instead of must) take as part of a transaction and, thus, subject to the (in)decision of a participant. The historical contingency is left partially indeterminate in the case of the non-prototypical furniture, whereas historical necessity makes the actions of the prototypical furniture in modernism a foregone conclusion. In Cash Window IV, 1990, (figs. 8 & 9) Adams places a color transparency of a mourner touching the dead in the aftermath of the Romanian revolution 2 behind the glass of a cash window with fluorescent lights on the reverse side. With the transparency of the dead above the counter, the image appears the attraction with the money window: the delivery mechanism. For Adams, an interest in the scatological as theorized by Georges Bataille enters into much of his work. In La Pissotière, 1988, for instance, (fig. 10) Adams places black and white transparencies of French military governors in Algeria, 1962, in a public toilet. The participant in Adam s works becomes subject to a spectacle of obscenity fused with the invisibility of their actions to everyone else. The scatological provides a counter to the cleanliness and sanitation of the international style of modernism. figure 8 figure
7 7 Dennis Adams Cash Window IV, 1990 formica and aluminum laminas on wood, plastic, stainless steel, fluorescent light and color transparency of a mourner touching the dead in the aftermath of the Romanian revolution in 1989 figure 10
8 8 Dennis Adams La Pissotière, 1988 plastic, lacquer, fluorescent light and black & white transparencies of dismantled statues of French military governors in Algeria, 1962 The use of furniture in Vito Acconci s work attempts to demonstrate a moment in which a participant may or may not engage in a particular construction of architecture. In Acconci s Where We Are Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976, (figs ) at Sonnabend Gallery in New York, a dining table extends plank-like above the street from the gallery. An audio recording plays Acconci reading a monologue addressing various individuals who might sit at the table. The table becomes a raised platform above the street where action may occur. The banality of the questions in the audio recording
9 9 such as what do you think? followed by now that we re all here together refer to a comfort not afforded while on the street (Vito Acconci. p. 94). Kate Linker writes of the relation Acconci s work to the gallery: in Acconci s terms, it becomes a place where I can face myself... a place where I can face you a place where we, together, can face up to where we are (we re in the hands of a gallery, an art system, an outmoded system of values, a monied interest) and, so, try to subvert the very place we re in The gallery, then, is redefined as a space of transaction, the location of a face-off with the established system (p. 95). As in the work of Dennis Adams, the furniture in Acconci s Where We Are Now (Who Are We Anyway?) sets a transaction that plays a propositional role between participants. figure 11 figure 12 Vito Acconci
10 10 Where We Are Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976 wooden tables, painted walls and audiotape Sonnabend Gallery, New York The fusing of spectacle with a behavior becomes apparent in much of Nancy Lupo s work. By linking the spectacle with a proposal of engagement, Lupo s work blurs the boundary between the diffusion of cultural difference via the dissemination of images through mass media and the various uses that might become ascribed in such diffusion. In Furnis with Amanda Knox, 2010, (fig. 13) a digital print of Amanda Knox 3 looms large over furniture Nancy sculpts to look like toy anatomical charts. Embedded in the furniture is epoxy resin that holds various detritus. The detritus becomes suspended to resist a particular action and, thereby, rearrange the subject s behavior towards a moment of (in)decision. figure 13 3 Amanda Knox was a traveler in Italy wrongly convicted in a murder which the court late acquitted her of the charges after serving four years in jail.
11 11 Nancy Lupo Furnis with Amanda Knox, 2010 foam, foamcoat, mod podge, epoxy resin, styrofoam balls, dog bowls, red wax gouda, reptile feeder, foamy floating keychain, solar flip-flap plant, glass bottles, giant vegetable peeler, electrical cords, foil ball sawed in half and Maison de Verre cast block ashtrays, Rockhard water putty, ink jet print outs and clear bags. Lupo s work engages with a potential subject through the sculpting of furniture as a delivery mechanism for various works. The modeling of the surfaces in Lupo s work counters the clean lines of modernism. In an exhibition at Reynolds Gallery called PET, 2012, (figs. 14 & 15) Nancy sculpts furniture to hold various balls and containers to appear to have waves on their sides. figure 14 figure 15 Nancy Lupo PET installation view, 2012 Reynolds Gallery, Virginia Brute Family, 2012 Rubbermaid Brute Containers, bike tire, magic sculpt 10-gallon container, 20-gallon container, 32-gallon container, 44-gallon container and 55-gallon container
12 12 Unlike much of the non-prototypical use of furniture in art since the 1970s, Olga Koumoundouros s work uses furniture not to propose a set of actions. In Demand Management with Daily Dough-nut performance, 2009, (figs ) Koumoundouros arranges furniture covered in newspaper montages. The furniture appears mostly on one side of a pie chart slice representing the one percent of the U.S. population owning thirty percent of the state s wealth. The furniture makes a doughnut shape from floor to ceiling and embeds into the slice with barely noticeable pieces protruding from one side. Images from mass media including advertisements become the skin of furniture representing domestic appliances. The banality of the appliances becomes fused with the spectacles from mass media. figures 17-20
13 13 Olga Koumoundouros Demand Management with Daily Dough-nut performance, 2009 REDCAT, Los Angeles
14 14 In Sam and Sol, 2011, Miles Huston uses a couch in the shape of an S as seen from above for theater seating as video of You live a long life, so you can choose to die, 2011, plays in an alcove of The Sculpture Center basement. As part of the exhibition Vide-Poche, 2011, the video is of Michel Auder s return to Fire Island to find and take the Greta Garbo hat ( at the former home of Sam Green. figure 21 figure 22 Miles Huston Sam and Sol, 2011 Miles Huston You live a long life, so you can choose to die, 2011 The Sculpture Center, New York
15 15 Furniture meanders a set of propositions for action that are neither strictly art nor architecture, but since the 1970s become a medium for artists to make work. Why this interest? Perhaps it might have something to do with a desire to make work neither bound to a particular site nor site-less.
16 16 works cited Dennis Adams: Selling History. Catalog organization by Peter Doroshenko. Contemporary Art Museum, Houston: Houston, Texas Linker, Kate. vito acconci. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.: New York, NY Miles, Christopher. Review of Demand Management with Daily Dough-nut performance, 2009, by Olga Koumoundouros at REDCAT. Artforum. November REDCAT.pdf