Top left: Chair Transformations #25 Plastic flowers and wire coat hanger 39 ¾ x 29 3/8 x 24 ¼ in. / Top center: Chair Transformations #10A Melamine laminate, wood and wool 38 1/8 x 20 18 1/16 in. (1969-70) / Top right: Chair Transformations #20B, 1996
Bottom left: Chair Transformations # 9 (1969-70)/ Bottom center: Chair Transformations #12 Painted plywood 41 7/8/ x 36 x 12 7/8 in (1969-70) / Bottom right: Chair Transformations #17A Acrylic on wood (1969-70 ca. 1989) 34 x 19 x 16 in.
“Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois”
– Le Corbusier
Some zig, some zag. Others carry the suppressed disposition of a gazelle about to sprint. Another sports a coat of pins. Broken into two personalities, one piece fractures and displays demented geometric patterns while another performs a loop-de-loop. Was the Hot Wheels race track a point of inspiration? It’s Mondrians’ “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” and an explosion of confetti. But further – can a chair resemble Chewbacca? These are questions that one is riddled with when confronted with the visionary sculpture of Lucas Samaras.
Part flea market junkie, part industrial designer, part sculptor turned chicken-wire daredevil, no artist approached the object quite like Lucas Samaras. Indeed, he saw the chair as embodiment of story and drew from the “supermarket of everyday life”. He seemed “unable to leave the most ordinary objects alone” and the chair was no exception. (“An Artist Who Thrives on Contradictions”, The New York Times, by Andy Grundberg August 28, 1988).
In the late 1950’s, he became occupied with chairs after noting their ubiquitous nature. Found everywhere, the humble chair lined sidewalks, littered display counters at flea markets, remained stacked at restaurants, or sat quietly on brownstone stoops. After capturing, or “rescuing” chairs with his camera, Samaras returned to his studio to manipulate the images on his computer. He aimed to “make them more luxurious, more dramatic, more fantastic.” In an interview, the artist recalls his earliest chairs:
They were short stories. Anathema to those who were trying to flee narratives as if that were possible by just using geometry. I found it productive to consider different sensibilities, representatives so to speak, of different cultures and deviations from normal form. I ended up with twenty-five chairs and dozens of chair drawings in ‘69-70. But it was never the idea that I was going to live with them.”
(“Lucas Samaras NYC Chairs”, The Pace Gallery, New York February 22, 2008 – March 29, 2008)
In the “Chair Transformations” series, begun in 1969, Samaras physically transformed chairs through a wide variety of methods and materials – covering them in mirrors or yarn, entwining them in wool, and painting them in bright patterns. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Samaras returned to the chair as subject, attaching small, found objects – including fake flowers, razor blades, plastic prisms, colored pencils, kitchen utensils, and plastic figurines, to armatures constructed of wire. Throughout his career, Samaras has constructed chairs out of many materials, including Cor-ten steel, wire, Formica, and wood.
THE CHAIR AS STORY TELLER
Left: Chair Transformations #25 Plastic flowers and wire coat hanger 39 ¾ x 29 3/8 x 24 ¼ in /
Right: Chair Transformations #17A Acrylic on wood (1969-70 ca. 1989) 34 x 19 x 16 in.
Left: Chair Transformations #10A Melamine laminate, wood and wool Center: Chair Transformation #18 (1969) 41.5 x 40 x 12 in. / Right: Chair Transformations #20B 1996
Chairs possess a built-in vocabulary. Consider Chair Transformations #17A; Curvaceous legs touch on Africa. Tiny feet radiate the shot gun energy of a young gazelle. Sinuous lines curve and swirl elegantly. Chair Transformations #20B, in accordion style, defies gravity and births sisters. Chair Transformations #25, on the other hand, sprouts a plethora of flowers; compact and profuse, plastic flowers entwine its’ frame and bring to mind the float of a Macy’s Easter Day parade. The viewer is unsure to water the work or arrange a bouquet. Chair Transformations #10A possesses a dual personality; its’ white angular half – recedes into the background, while its’ noisome right half – grows a tangle of wool. Chair Transformation #18, however, sits poised as if on a balance beam.
Left: “Untitled” (1965) , Center: “Untitled” Information unidsclosed Right: “Untitled” (1970) Ink on paper 17 in. × 23 in. × 1 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Samaras’ drawings reveal the artists’ mind at work. He attentively embodies negative spaces with a lively Van Gogh line and stippling throughout. The drawings are richly textured and hold their own as finished pieces.
Chair Transformations #17A Acrylic on wood (1969-70 ca. 1980) 34 x 19 x 16 in. / “Untitled” (1970) Ink on paper 10 1/8 x 6 3/8in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
THE CHAIR AS FOUND OBJECT
“No more wire hangers!” – Faye Dunaway, Mommy Dearest
No one embraced the found object as did Samaras. The artist sculpted with wild abandon fashioning jazzy concoctions mobilizing multicolored paint brushes, yarn, band saws, egg beaters, figurines and license plate frames. The wire frames acted as a platform to connect base objects. His asymmetrical compositions never functioned as furniture but as sensual repositories bridging disparate items.
Chair Transformations #17A, with its’ shoe insert and protruding egg beater, pierce the negative space surrounding it. A viewer is seduced by the erratic lines, the electric colors, a confluence of textures, and the discovery of everyday objects in a fresh light.
It is no surprise that Samaras, a child of Pop Art, and a contemporary of Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselman, David Hockney and Edward Kleinholz, found expression in the found object. Chairs acted as a springboard to controlled mayhem.
Right: Chair with Objects, 1986, The Pace Gallery, New York. Acrylic, pencil, erasers, beads, pins, mirror, egg beater, wire hanger, mixed media construction 43 ¼ x 20 ¾ x 16 in. Left: Wire Chair with Objects, (1986) 59 in. Mixed media construction
A.) __ Prophylactics. B.) __ Merino Wool C.) __ Plastic Laminate D.) __Shuttlecock
E.) __ Pez dispenser F.) __ All of the Above
“Wire hanger chair (vesta)” 1989 53.50 .x 29.02 x 22.01 in. Acrylic, yarn, mirror, nails, wood, wire, photograph and mixed media construction
Detail of “Wire hanger chair (vesta)” 1989 53.50 .x 29.02 x 22.01 in. Acrylic, yarn, mirror, nails, wood, wire, photograph and mixed media construction
THE CHAIR AS ARTISTIC EXPRESSION
Left: Yayoi Kusama’s, ”Accumulation”, Sewn and stuffed fabric, wood chair frame, paint, 35 ½ × 38 ½ × 35 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Indeed, Samaras is not the only creative to have branched into the art of the “chair”. A look through the internet reveals a plethora of possibilities and personalities. Consider Yayoi Kusama’s “Accumulation” (Left), whose bulbous fingerlike extensions and white dimpled surfaces remind the viewer of biomorphic growth. One wonders how an artist, whose colorful demeanor and shocking presence, uses the quiet color of “white” in her creation. Certainly, Roy Lichtenstein’s “Brushstroke Chair and Ottoman” (Below) – a sister of his signature brushstroke series – which sold at auction for $341,000, (https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2017/11/masterworks/10) is no small matter.
In Nancy Graves’ “Tablescape” (below), we see cross cultural currents in sculpture that draws inspiration from the cosmic animation of Courage the Cowardly Dog whereas Allen Jones acts out fantasy and fetish in his vinyl construction. Shana Moulton “Activia Massage” (below) leaves one pondering the mysterious connection between dairy and massage. Could Ms. Moulton be an Activia yogurt spokesperson cum artist? (“30 Artists to Watch at Frieze London”, October 7, 2015) describes Moulton’s work as “a massage table furnished with a portal to an Activia yogurt commercial”.
These are questions to fascinate the art lover and follower of the most intriguing individuals who grace the art world with their vision and love of form. Lucas Samaras’ Chair Transformations” freed the artist from the constraints of canvas and offered a platform for projecting the most banal objects into the most outlandish and profound while redefining the term of “found object”.
Right: Brushstroke Chair and Ottoman by Roy Lichtenstein Laminated and lacquered white birch plywood (1988) 18W x 27D x 70H Ottoman is 17.5 W x 24D x 20.25H Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
Left: Allen Jones Chair Right: Shana Moulton “Activia Massage” (2014)
Nancy Graves “Tablescape” 1987 ¼ x 71 ½ x 69 ¼ in. Polychrome steel, bronze and baked enamel. Knoedler & Co.