New York

Doriana Chiarini

Salvatore Ala

Just when one might be tempted finally to join up with the cynics and agree that Yes, there is nothing even remotely of interest left to say regarding the relationship between art and design, along comes a show such as this. Featuring recent sculptures by Doriana Chiarini, it confirms my faith in the powers of the imagination, transcending the mundane and mostly tendentious efforts that seem to have prevailed lately in this admittedly complex arena. With refreshing directness, Chiarini strips away the veneer of didacticism covering both notions of art-as-commodity and design-as-sign. She does so not by denying or simplifying the wide array of ideas and associations intrinsic to each, but by demonstrating how meaning in these contexts arises on the wings of fancy, borne aloft by the object in the guise of visual metaphor.

What Chiarini demonstrates, in example after marvelous example, is how, when it comes down to the area between art and furniture, style is the key to understanding. Chiarini is a connoisseur of modern style. Her references cover an exhilarating range, from Constructivism to Pop art. Interno Rosso (Red interior, 1988), with its smooth, curvy, bright-red shapes made of iron and finely wrought sense of balance, recalls work by Alexander Calder. But Chiarini adds a twist: a miniature chair on a small base, supported by a wire that extends from the body of the piece. The shape of the chair echoes the expansive configuration of the larger element. The work projects a jaunty, almost friendly attitude, while raising questions of outside and inside, and of style, in terms of laying down rules of appropriateness.

All of Chiarini’s sculptures shown here follow basically the same format, with one or more miniature chairs made of painted paper appearing in consort with abstract geometric elements. Even though one knew what to expect in this respect, there was no predicting the impact her forms would have. Settimo Cielo (Seventh heaven, 1988), for instance, consists of a metallic base with a long narrow arm extending diagonally upward to support a glass base holding a tiny chair. The piece has a sparse and serious demeanor, offset by its whimsical function. In its reductiveness, the piece shares an affinity with the work of the Productivists (a group of artists within the Constructivists who shared a strong interest in design). Its disjunctive displacement of the common- place comes close to the playful spirit of Surrealism, recalling in particular the work of René Magritte. Chiarini consistently uses height and scale in unexpected ways to thwart one’s usual relationship to daily-encountered objects.

Ronny Cohen