New York

“Further Furniture”

Marian Goodman/Multiples

In recent years quite a few artists have begun to explore the implications of this shift in meaning, by making art which takes the form of furniture. For the most part work of this kind only looks functional, and in fact is really produced for esthetic purposes rather than everyday use. The artist may intend it to participate in its owner’s daily life, but by its very nature it is too significant to be treated as ordinary furniture. Art of this sort inserts itself mischievously into most of the hoary old debates about artistic practice: that the inner structure of a work of art should refer only to its own making, that art is frivolous unless it has a social function, and on and on. One could continue indefinitely, mouthing the formulas that are neatly compromised and made ridiculous by the best works in this genre.

Working in such a vein demands a certain amount of wit, and fortunately Nicolas Calas, the curator of “Further Furniture,” has it. His selection is lively, although there are no surprises: Scott Burton plays an elegant joke on Constructivist devices by building a small table out of a square, a triangle, and a circle of steel; Richard Artschwager continues to play a double game, making fun of Minimalist procedures with the severe geometries of his Formica-covered desk, chair, and bookcase, while raking many a half-forgotten association over the coals. There was a nice touch of self-parody in Sol LeWitt’s contribution, a low, glass-topped coffee table supported on a version of his open cube structures. The most visually stunning were also the least functional: Robert Wilson’s two Beach Chairs, unequal in size, each a triangular form made of slatted aluminum with a solid roll of metal for a headrest. These could not be mistaken for anything but art.

The inclusion of Allan McCollum’s paintings turned the show into something more than just another collection of artists’ furniture. These works are small Masonite constructions that operate towards painting in a critical spirit similar to that of the best of the furniture pieces towards sculpture. Each consists of a raised central panel, painted black, lying on a cream or off-white support; the whole work is framed. The frames, in this selection, are painted in various shades of brown. In effect McCollum has made his paintings into little decorative objects, each replaceable by another to suit any design need. In terms of the commodity marketplace in which artists compete they are perfect items; small, non-threatening, disposable. Except that their very perfection makes them scary, for there is no guarantee that the artist is playing fair; he may be joking up his sleeve.

This sense of unease permeated the show as a whole. Even the most innocent looking objects appeared vaguely threatening—not in a physical sense, but threatening to the ways in which we try to make sense of everyday experience.

Thomas Lawson