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Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Art of Seating at AIHA

Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 chair 2003, Kenneth Smythe
Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, there's an end-of-year chance to catch a marvelous traveling show at the Albany Institute of History & Art before it moves on after December 31.

Fancy side chair, c. 1820, unknown designer
The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and is a delight for anyone who has ever sat in a chair or wondered what it would be like to try to improve on that experience. Featuring 43 individual specimens in pristine condition, this collection runs the gamut from simply stated wooden rockers to gaudy stuffed confections to space-age sittable sculptures.

High Stool 1971, Frank Gehry
Though one can easily consider these as works of art, most were production models and widely marketed when they were made. For me, this adds to the joy and intrigue of looking at the creations on view: The designers didn't just solve the problem of imagining a new and visually arresting way to support your rump - they also managed to find a way to sell it.

Of course there are economic failures peppered through the show - this sort of background information is nicely summed up in printed labels set up on stands by each chair - but there are no functional failures presented: Every chair in this selection is stunning, and they all appear pretty nice to sit on, too, though naturally that is severely prohibited here (though, if you're like me, you will struggle to resist the urge to try).

House of Representatives Chamber
Arm Chair 1857, Thomas Ustick Walter
I'll admit bias - I am a fan of design (particularly modern design), so I ate this collection up like a fresh Christmas stollen ... but, objectively speaking, the items shown in The Art of Seating are all first-class pieces in gorgeous original condition or expertly restored, and they are simply beautiful.

And, there are other good reasons to visit the museum now - Joan Steiner's Look-Alikes - vivid and impossibly clever dioramas that are the basis for her successful picture books - are on view through Jan 29; and Rock & Roll Icons: Photographs by Patrick Harbron will be there through Feb. 12. The Look-Alikes are scattered throughout the museum, making a perfect treasure-hunting activity for kids of all ages; and Harbron's show includes a lot of nostalgic artifacts such as guitars and concert posters, along with his excellent photos of the stars, which will please a certain age-range of former kids.

Note: The AIHA is closed on Christmas Day and on the observed holiday (Monday), but will be open from Tuesday through Saturday, Dec. 27 to Dec. 31, from 10 to 5 each day and from 10 to 8 (with free admission after 5) on Thursday.

Large Diamond Lounge Chair, c. 1952, Harry Bertoia




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