Creating the Contemporary Chair

The beautifully industrial form of Ross Lovegrove's 'Diatom' armchair designed in 2014 and manufactured by Moroso Udine, Italy in 2015. Painted aluminium, plastic. 77.2 x 72.2 x 62.6 cm

It’s always interesting to learn what museums are up to behind the scenes and the new exhibition Creating the Contemporary Chair reveals that the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne has been hard at work acquiring some important (and at times perplexing) examples of the modern chair.

Opening March 17, the exhibition will feature thirty-five chairs that have been recently acquired by the museum through the support of the Gordon Moffit Gift. The designs on display range from the 1980′s to the present day and embody breakthroughs in production, such as Philippe Starck’s transparent ‘Louis ghost’ chair and the ‘Air Chair’ by Jasper Morrison a revolutionary air injected polypropylene design that changed the way plastic chairs are made. While many of the thirty five designs have become everyday interior objects, the exhibition gives us pause to think about their importance in the global design landscape and how they relate to the more extravagant examples of chair design featured in the show. All of the chairs exhibited are part of the NGV’s own collection acquired through the Gordon Moffit Gift

Purchased through 2016 and as recently as early 2017, the chairs on show are predominantly by international designers but include a small number of Australian designs including one by the subject of last week’s blog post, Trent Jansen, plus important designs by Adam Goodrum and Chris Connell. This list will no doubt miff some Australian designers who missed out on selection but as with any collection of this sort it is not intended to represent everyone working in the field of chair design but just a small selection that capture new concepts and innovative ideas or movements. Shown below are Trent Jansen’s ‘Chinaman’s File Chair’ from Broached Commission’s 2011 exhibition Broached Colonial and Melbourne designer Chris Connell’s biomorphic ‘Pepe’ chair from 1992 which utilises self-skinning polyurethane rather than conventional upholstery.

Adam Goodrum’s folding ‘Stitch’ chair designed in 2005 eventualy went into production with Italian high end label Cappellini in 2008. It’s immaculate folding design realised totally in alumnium plate and release through a major international label brought post Marc Newson Australian design back into the spotlight. The design continues to be an important milestone in the timeline of contemporary Australian furniture.

Adam Goodrum's influential 'Stitch' chair designed in 2005 and produced by Cappellini Meda, Italy from 2008. Manufactured in painted aluminium and polypropylene. 78 x 43 x 48 cm

Adam Goodrum’s influential ‘Stitch’ chair designed in 2005 and produced by Cappellini Meda, Italy from 2008. Manufactured in painted aluminium and polypropylene. 78 x 43 x 48 cm

Of the international designers represented the most extreme example of the contemporary chair is perhaps the one that is the least representative of industrial design and the most theatrical. South African designer, Porky Hefer, created his hanging chair ‘Fiona Blackfish’ in 2015 and it became one of the pivotal pieces in an exhibition presented by limited edition gallery Southern Guild in 2016. Made from leather, steel and sheepskin the chair has a playful ‘Jaws’ like quality which is amusing but ultimately more akin to a Pop Art piece like the giant fabric Hamburgers of American artist. Attention seeking in the extreme, the chair is perhaps a good example of the diverse directions that the contemporary chair is taking. The chair was originally shown at the end of 2015 as part of an exhibition of Hefer’s work called Monstera Deliciosa presented by Southern Guild. As a chair for a museum collection it has plenty of pedigree as Hefer’s work was selected as South Africa’s representative at the inaugural London Design Biennale in September 2016.

Porky Hefer's 'Fiona Blackfish' hanging chair designed in 2015, manufactured in 2016 in Leather, steel and sheepskin 170 x 164 x 135 cm

Porky Hefer’s ‘Fiona Blackfish’ hanging chair designed in 2015, manufactured in 2016 in Leather, steel and sheepskin
170 x 164 x 135 cm

Another showstopper in the exhibition is the ‘Alice armchair’ by Italian designer Jacopo Foggini. Designed in 2011 the chair went into production with Edra two years later. Made using a mould filled with extruded translucent polycarbonate, the chair (which is intended for outdoor use) also includes hidden LED lighting – 5 metres of it in fact. Offered in a blend of see-through colours including acid yellow, bright green, petroleum and fuchsia, the fluoro qualities were like a magnet for visitors when Design daily first saw it on the floor of the Edra stand at Salone in 2013. Some how Foggini’s concept captured the imagination of the public where designs using similar materials that proceeded it, like Tom Dixon’s ‘Fresh Fat’ chair from 2004, had long been forgotten.

Jacopo Foggini 's 'Alice armchair' designed in 2011 and manufactured by Edra, Pisa, Italy 2013. Polycarbonate, LEDs and electrical components. 80 x 114 x 98 cm

Jacopo Foggini ‘s ‘Alice armchair’ designed in 2011 and manufactured by Edra, Pisa, Italy 2013. Polycarbonate, LEDs and electrical components. 80 x 114 x 98 cm

It’s interesting to look at Cini Boeri’s famous ‘Ghost’ chair from 1987 in the context of Foggini’s ‘Alice armchair’. Superficially similar in form, Boeri’s design is probably the ultimate in the industrial process as it’s made from a hugely thick single sheet of glass that is some how cut, heated and forced into a mould. The chair was a technical milestone and (in the opinion of Design daily) represents one of the most impressive furniture pieces made from glass ever. Each piece is to all intensive purposes identical and perfect. By contrast Foggini’s chair is a hybrid low-tech / high-tech design made up of extruded plastic applied with artistic flair by hand into a mould ensuring each chair is totally unique. The LED’s are really the only high-tech component.

Cini Boeri and Tomu Katayanagi's 'Ghost' armchair designed in 1987 and manufactured by FIAM Italia, Tavullia, Italy. Made from solid glass. 95 x 75 x 68 cm

Cini Boeri and Tomu Katayanagi’s ‘Ghost’ armchair designed in 1987 and manufactured by FIAM Italia, Tavullia, Italy. Made from solid glass. 95 x 75 x 68 cm

The line between machine made and man made can sometimes become quite blurred in contemporary furniture design. Designers are becoming more adept at making products outside of the traditional furniture areas of wooden joinery and metal work, appropriating modern technology to suit their ideas but removing the precision that is generally built into such highly technical devices. This is precisely the case with Dirk Vander Kooij’s ‘Endless chair’ from 2010 that is manufactured using a robotic arm fed by a steady stream of polycarbonate – sort of like a giant glue gun. Vander Koolj’s chair is not only a sensation to watch being made but also a beautiful hybrid piece conceptually, encapsulating the repeated application of the spatial slices found in 3-D printing but achieved by DIY means. Another example of this type of Heath Robinson style innovation appears in the ‘Original Gravity stool’ designed by Jólan van der Wiel in 2011 just after graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Melted reclaimed plastic sea debris is combined with metal filings then using a strong magnetic field ‘pulled’ into shape. The you tube videos of both the ‘Endless chair’ and ‘Original Gravity stool’ make fascinating viewing.

The 'Endless chair' by Dirk Vander Kooij designed in 2010. The chair is manufactured in extruded polycarbonate by Dirk Vander Kooij using a robotic arm. 79.0 x 40.0 x 62.0 cm

The ‘Endless chair’ by Dirk Vander Kooij designed in 2010. The chair is manufactured in extruded polycarbonate by Dirk Vander Kooij using a robotic arm. 79.0 x 40.0 x 62.0 cm