Oh Modernism, how I want to sit in your abstraction


Display of Rietveld chairs at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. Being a huge fan of incline planes, I naturally gravitate toward the great Dutch designers. Some highlights are posted below.

From front to back:

Auke Komter, Armchair 1935

J.J. R. Oud, Armchair, 1933

Marcel Breuer, Wassily Chair, 1927

Gerrit Rietveld, Berlin Chair, 1927

Gerrit Rietveld, Upright Slat Chair, 1920

(Rietveld: “I always try not to enclose space”)

Gerrit Rietveld, Unpainted prototype for Red-Blue Chair, 1918

When I was about 13 I went to the Detroit Artist Market auction where there was a chair, but not really a chair, more like a spatial interaction up for auction. To describe this chair is virtually impossible, but let me try. It was made of wood, and contained a seat that was at the center of a spherical curve. You sat, put your feet in the foot rest, and your hands on these two, subtle handlebars. The chair was mobile yet stationary. Like a rocking chair, this chair responded to body movement. But it didn’t rock back and forth, it orbited, not a full ellipse (after all, we know celestial bodies don’t make circles!) but enough so that you felt as though you were able to make some kind of cycle based on just a slight leaning of the body.

It was a beautifully crafted object, made entirely of wood and steel. I think it was over $500, and thus completely unobtainable to me at the time. However, to this day I think regularly about this chair, wondering where it is, who made it, and if it is happy.

A good chair is a mentor, it should be natural enough so that you can dissolve into its form, but also be firm and disciplining. The more abstract the better.

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