Imagine having so many cool chairs just lying around your office that you're unwittingly (and literally) sitting on a major design exhibition. That was the situation Dr. Diane DeMill Jacobsen, who heads up the Jacobsen Collection of American Art, found herself in. Through the persistence of a former curator at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, Jacobsen was talked into lending the pieces out for a traveling show.
The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design...presents a survey of exceptional American chair design from the early 19th century to the present day. The chair is experienced not only as a functional item, but as sculptural in view—the chair as art.
Each of the approximately 40 chairs in the exhibition are chosen for their beauty and historical context with important social, economic, political and cultural influences. Selections from The Jacobsen Collection of American Art are joined by contemporary designs offering a stylistic journey in furniture with show-stoppers by John Henry Belter, George Hunzinger, Herter Brothers, Stickley Brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles & Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Frank Gehry among others.
It's nice to see an American design show that stretches back to the early 19th Century, when we were not a wealthy nation and had to make do with what was on hand. It's also nice to see that the show is traveling outside of the major U.S. cities, to spread some goodness where design is not necessarily a hot topic; after kicking off at MoCA in Jacksonville, the show has landed at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where Jacobsen will deliver an attendant lecture entitled Global Influence on American Design on the 16th of this month.
In the video below, Jacobsen talks about the genesis of the show and one chair in particular, the House of Representatives Chamber Arm Chair. (Sign of the times: The Congressmen of 1857 rejected a particular design element of the chair because they considered it excessively expensive.)