New York

Forrest Myers

Art et Industrie

For decades, Forrest Myers has been exploring the territory that comprises the no-man’s-land between design and sculpture, consistently forsaking a purist dedication to either in favor of a stubborn hybridity that has ensured his excommunication from both. His work invites us to indulge in the understandable impulse to buttonhole his output as “artsy chairs,” “functional sculpture,” or any other thumbnail epithets connoting a fall from disciplinary grace. But to accept this invitation is to miss the richness of Myers’ sense of play, a materially embedded, deconstructive wit that seriously questions our familiar categories of sculpture and design.

Most of the 16 recent works featured in this show indeed represented Myers’ sculptural investigation of the basic chair form—his “search for the perfect chair”—the modus operandi for which has long been the artist’s keen sense of humor. His most literal works were wonderfully overwrought one-liners, send-ups of pure functionalist thinking: the yellow aluminum Big Cheese, 1996, Swiss cheese–like down to its holes; Toon, 1996, a decidedly uninviting armchair wrought of tangled, aluminum wire; Something Like a Good Armchair, 1994, a similarly tightly woven wire piece accompanied by the equally inhospitable, steel drum–fashioned Ottoman Empire, 1994. With all four, Myers invoked a familiar form only to thwart it with decidedly unchairlike, sculptural tropes, resulting in cleverly uncanny objects. More subtle in its wit was Fin de Siècle, 1995, in which the artist, Midas-like, transformed a decadently dilapidated armchair into a work of sculpture by wrapping it, along with a nearby wall-hung assemblage, in hideously yellow plastic. Here, the tackiest of interior-decorating practices is transformed into a Christo-like gesture, recycling and rechanneling the used into the priceless.

Having drawn out the sculptural possibilities of common furniture forms, Myers elsewhere reversed the terms of his inquiry to toy with the functional possibilities of sculptural modes. Mesa Doble, 1995, and Reef, 1996, were lyrically abstract configurations of steel that functioned discreetly as a double chair and a table, respectively. Ghost (for Larry Bennett), 1995, was a quasi-figurative form, delicately outlined in wire, that also suggested a metachair—a clever reminder of the often-forgotten figural presence inherent in all furniture. Butthis show’s most successful piece (and the work packing the biggest punch line) was the one that bounced back and forth along the sculpture/furniture continuum most provocatively: viewed from the front, Picnic Table, 1996, was a formidable minimalist configuration of aluminum and metal elements; viewed from the side or back, it seemed to be nothing more than, well, a picnic table lying on its side. The piece offered food for thought for those who, before examining it closely, may have taken it as a dead-serious piece of sculpture.

In the art world, Myers, like all court jesters, remains a marginal figure simultaneously scorned and applauded for his antics. His work occupies a liminal position between high and applied art, playing one off the other but committed to neither. As such, it is likely never to be accepted by either camp, even as it continues to illuminate both.

Jenifer P. Borum