Advisor-collector Raquel Cayre, curator of "Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong," is a small statured, young figure in a big, old old world of design. But the tunnels she's drilling through that big, old world are geysering with freshness, as she mixes and matches art with design, design with art and back again. And as she makes extremely public these crossovers and the new, egalitarian burrows she's created for them to be interacted with, she also revitalizes the fun-ness of design, skirting showroom settings for environments that offer broader value to broader audiences – both aspirational and buying.
Lucy Dodd, "Grandma Serpent," 2017. Pigmented cotton on metal chair frame, mirror.
(Left) Rogan Gregory, USA, "Hermaphroditee," 2019. Sitting environment in gypsum with upholstered cushion. (Right) Seth Price. "Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong," 2017. Baked enamel CNC-routed aluminum; this work is the exhibition's namesake.
Tribeca-based design gallery R & Company fits right in with this ethos. In fact, it was doing it first, and was the original tapper of young blood design talents the likes of The Haas Brothers and Katie Stout, to name just a couple. So, although she'd thought about presenting her chair-based show concept without institutional backing, when Cayre began conversations with the gallery it became clear it was a natural fit for both parties. (Evan Snyderman, who alongside Zesty Meyers is the gallery's founding principal, was also involved in the curator's 2018 "Raquel's Dream House" project, a month-long experiential home design takeover that sold pieces out the wazoo, cementing the effectiveness of her model of experiential design presentation).
"This exhibition was four months of research and not telling anyone," Cayre says of the early stages of its conception. "It started as me dissecting and funneling through the Vitra collection, going to the MoMA show" as well as other exhibits abroad, and "just nerding out and breaking down all the architects and designers making classic chairs." In other words, she embarked on an obsession-fueled global inquisition on what role chairs play in art history and what they're respectively up to these days: where the old chairs reside, who's talking about them (and sitting in them), how they are being re-interpreted by new designers, how artists are interacting with them as subject and even medium, and what potential is left unfulfilled by their meaning as both function and formal art or design piece.
(Left) Peter Shire, USA, "Plasma Elephant," 2018. Sculptural chair in steel, two-part polyurethane. (Right) Chair by Darren Bader.
Rob Pruitt. "Love American Style" 2019. Gold tape on love seat.
The curatorial process, for Cayre, was incredibly research-heavy. Aside from firsthand exhibition trips, archives, and a library of textual resources she's curated as part of the exhibit display (viewable on a bookshelf en route downstairs to R & Company's lower level, where "Chairs" continues), she cites Joseph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs(1965) as monumentally inspirational.
Kosuth's work – which is alluded to in her curator's statement, a relatively abstract musing on the chair – is a display of a chair, a photograph of a chair, and a blown-up, written-out wall text definition of "chair." So which one is a chair, as we choose to see it? "Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong" is provoking a similar question: What does a chair mean, and how malleable (or vulnerable) is that meaning? In other words, why do we subscribe to ideas of what a chair "means" or "is," when its meaning and being have the opportunity to be radically more expansive.
One and Three Chairs (1965) by Joseph Kosuth. Image via the Museum of Modern Art. This art piece was an inspiration for curator Raquel Cayre.
The show is an investigation of these questions and preconceptions. "I didn't want it to be a design show," Cayre says. "I wanted this to be a thinking show."
The tools for prodding visitors to think exist in the confrontational works themselves, all curated with historical precedences in mind, and mostly rooted in personal relationships, whether with the design and art-work as a collector or with the makers themselves. Cayre began inviting artists to participate in January – quite recently, in exhibition-planning terms – and provided them with guidelines about as abstract as her curator's statement. The resulting interpretations of "chair" are what's on display, from mediums spanning Plexiglas to painting to photography to fur coats to flora to textiles to typeface to bumper stickers to bronze and beyond.
Featured artists and designers include both more commercially known names, like KAWS and Nate Lowman, and classically recognized icons like Cayre's famed Instagram's namesake, Ettore Sottsass. And of course, the 40-plus other artists and designers featured in the concise exhibition of colorful, bizarre, sometimes grotesque and sometimes whimsical – but consistently eye-popping – "chairs."