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LES CHAISES D'ANTAN Ann Sargent Wooster Queen Victoria Chairs 14 Most furniture, and especially chairs, conveys information about the user. Chairs are figures controlling sites-e.g., corsets -that also serve as accessories or costumes. With their carved high backs, Charles II chairs not only supported tall, wigged heads during the evenings of card play popular in the Restoration but served as mini-thrones, aggrandizing their occupants and suggesting the need for graphic symbols of the restored monarchy. The daybeds popular during the reign of Louis XV allowed the spine to droop and encouraged a languid posture suitable for playing the leading intermural sport, seduction. Or imagine the clustered wing chairs of a London gentleman's club: the sheltering ear flaps of the wings isolating their occupants in perdonal caves. When Brancusi sought to redress the overwhelming verticality of sculpture in favor of horizontal forms, he justified the results by designating the objects produced as furniture , calling them "bench" or "table." In his quest for a greater degree of abstraction , he did not build chairs because they were too anthropomorphic. While Brancusi disavowed the sensate qualities of furniture, most contemporary artists using furniture in their work (Robert Wilson, Rauschenberg, Scott Burton, and Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture) come from a theatrical tradition. Their use of furniture capitalizes on the inherent character and drama of furniture, its ability to suggest place and interaction with performers. Robert Wilson's chairs and other furniture are far more than mere traces of performance . They are sculpture set up individually , or in league or confrontation with each other. They continue the plays in new and independent terms, replacing the performers they once held with their own more defined personalities. The excellent and well-lit (with darkness) installation of Small Overture Chair objects, originally curated by Robert Stearns at the Cincinnati Museum of Art, offers a richer and more diversified experience than looking at the sets for Diaghilev's ballets or for Picasso's The Three Cornered Hat. The sets and chairs appear as tableaux vivants without performers , enacting some of the situations underlying the plays. As installed in the Neuberger Museum, Wilson's work is approached through an exhibition of De Stilj including Gerit Rietveld's Red and Blue Chair. The similiarities and differences between the two approaches to furniture making are striking. Rietveld's brightly-colored uncomfortable chair does have the simple construction and basic carpentry of angles that characterizes much of Wilson's furniture . But Rietveld's chair suggests neutrality, a withdrawal into a more abstract realm. Even the most streamlined of Wilson's furniture such as the neon table and the chaise from I Was Sitting on My Patio set or the stainless steel beach chairs from Death, Destructionand Detroithave a deliberate content intended to disturb. Many of Wilson's pieces are done out of sync with human scale. In an Alice in Wonderland way they transform expectations about place. They go beyond their role as containers to instigate a direct response. The small Overture chair, placed in the center of a wrinkled sea of lead, posits the loneliness of the individual in a dangerous environment, a solitary voyager. The lead-draped chairs from The Life and Times ofJoseph Stalin and the two "electric " chairs from A Letter to Queen Victoria evoke different phases of the inviolable prison of domesticity. The footed Queen Victoria chairs are equipped with lights in their uprights. The large chairs face each other in the kind of eyeball to eyeball confrontation (with the lights serving as extra eyes) encounter groups and families provoke. The equality and immobility of the chairs suggest a standoff like two computers with equal programming playing chess. 15 Chairs with and without performers are employed to evoke weightlessness, a metaphysical insubstantiality. The single dangling bentwood chair in The King of Spain and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud was the first of these symbols. The sturdy hanging bench on which Raymond Andrews sat in Deafman'sGlance has by 1977 metamorphised into an autonomous erector set bench equipped with a safety belt. Its second incarnation calls forth a state somewhere between flying carpets and electrocution. Chairs are generally proportioned to the...


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