By Betsy Andrews
In Jean Blackburn's 1995 sculpture, "Untitled," a large chair constructed of fragile lattice emerges from the seat of a small, incomplete wooden chair, as though it's the little chair's dream of what it might grow up to be. The sculpture embodies the spirit of "The Chair, Reconsidered," a new exhibition at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts that urges viewers to engage with an object they're used to putting behind them—both literally and figuratively.
"Viewers are going to be amazed by what they see—possibly puzzled, but ultimately amazed," says Mark Johnstone, director of visual arts for The Center. "They may never think about chairs in quite the same way."
The exhibition brings together the work of six internationally acclaimed artists who explore the transformation of a common object with surprising and sometimes humorous results. Johnstone calls a set of small preliminary models for Don King's "Dysfunctional Chairs" series "very funny," and they sport titles like "Neurosis," "Despair," and "Irritable." King, celebrated nationally for his beautiful and exotic chairs of found willow and other not incredibly exotic woods, lives in Challis, Idaho. He brings his mastery of vision and construction to The Center for a five-day willow chair-making workshop, July 10-14 (pre-registration required).
Other artists de- or re-construct their subject matter. In "Sim ou Nao (Yes or No)", Courtney Smith has sawed apart a 1950s Brazilian rosewood armchair and encased the remains in sixteen birch plywood blocks of various sizes, which are configured differently each time it's exhibited. It is at once sensuous (the curves of richly toned rosewood clasped within the pale smooth birch), beautiful (the simplicity of geometry, like a Mondrian in three dimensions) and alarming (but this is a chair. What happened to the chair? I am supposed to be able to sit in a chair. If a chair is not a chair, then what else in my house could be other than it appears? Are all the props of my daily life on the brink of mutiny? What's the world coming to? That sort of thing.)
Other works include B. Wurtz's disassembled chair-turned-sculpture (and/or painting?) and Allan Wexler's smile-inspiring "12 Unfolding Chairs," which offers variations on a design featuring multiple miniature folding chairs, choreographed with the loose precision of a tap dance. The Center's exhibition text describes a video installation by Richard Bloes as a playful contemplation of "the interface between technology and art, sculpture and function and perspective and scale."
Children who want to reconsider chairs for themselves will get a chance during "Chairs Family Day" on Sunday, July 30, at 3 p.m. In this two-hour program, families will be invited to draw their own pictures of chairs, then create collages that will present the images in unlikely environments.
"The Chair, Reconsidered" will run at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts now through July 29. Chairs return to their functional selves at a related exhibition at The Center's Hailey branch. "The Chair in Public" features models of benches, drawings and photographs of seating areas and completed works for use in public spaces by local artists and architects.
"Both Hailey and Ketchum have been considering how they can engage artists in designing their public corridors," says Kristen Poole, The Center's Artistic Director, explaining the inspiration for the exhibition. When Johnstone asked local artists and architects to propose outdoor seating designs, he received an enthusiastic response, offering diverse, creative solutions.
"Chairs, Reconsidered," June 14-July 29, Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
Gallery Walk, Friday, July 7, 5:30-8 p.m.
Willow Chair Making Workshop with artist Don King, Monday through Friday, July 10-14, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. $350 members/$400 nonmembers. $50 supply fee. Registration deadline: Friday, June 23.
Chairs Family Day, hands-on collage for the whole family, Sunday, July 30, 3-5 p.m.
"The Chair in Public," June 28-July 29, opening reception June 30, 5:30-7 p.m., at The Center in Hailey at 314 S. 2nd St. Models, drawings, photographs and life-size works of seating for public spaces, designed by local artists and architects.