An ode to the chair | Centraal Museum Utrecht

Anna Aagaard Jensen, A Basic Instinct, 2018, Collection Centraal Museum Utrecht Photo: Ernst Moritz

The exhibition Statement Chairs is on display in Centraal Museum Utrecht from 23 September 2023. The exhibition is an ode to the chair as perhaps the most classic piece of furniture design. From revolutionary production methods and iconic designs to purely symbolic chairs: Statement Chairs is a surprising exhibition of highly diverse designs by more than one hundred designers. The exhibition design is by Joost van Bleiswijk, who also co-curated the exhibition.

The Centraal Museum has the largest Rietveld collection in the world, so it only seems fitting that his iconic Red-Blue Chair opens the exhibit. While it was created one hundred years ago, it continues to inspire many people today. The chair is both honoured and questioned. Dutch comedian Claudia de Breij pays tribute to Rietveld with a copy covered with newspaper articles she created for her New Year’s Eve show in 2019. Victor Sonna questions Rietveld’s chair in his work Nobody gives a shit about Rietveld in Mali (2018), showing that the significance of so-called ‘icons’ is very much tied to your demographic location.

Can you portray the world through chairs?
However, it’s not just about well-known design chairs. In fact, it’s more about chairs that tell an unexpected story. Artists use chairs as powerful symbols, challenging our perceptions with unexpected forms and raising philosophical and social questions.

For his project Cross Cultural Chairs (2018), designer Matteo Guarnaccia visited the world’s most densely populated countries and translated the image that emerged into eight different chairs. Cross Cultural Chairs is now displayed at Centraal Museum for the first time.

What if the chair loses its function? Is it still a chair?
The exhibition also displays Wrapped armchair (1964-1965) by Christo and Jeanne Claude. Even though it is wrapped and cannot be used to sit on, the work is still instantly recognisable as a chair. Joseph Kosuth also questions the concept of the chair in his installation One and three chairs (1965).

Anna Aagaard Jensen’s A Basic Instinct (2018), on the other hand, is very much intended to be used as a chair, but only by people who identify as female can take a seat. The chair’s design encourages them to spread their legs, thereby claiming their rightful position in public space.

The exhibition consists of more than one hundred chairs by makers including Mina Abouzahra, Maarten Baas, Fernando and Huberto Campana, Christo and Jeanne Claude, Kees Dekkers, Kiki van Eijk, General Idea, Ineke Hans, David Hockney, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Kruger, Tayeba Begum Lipi, Gavin and Alice Munro, Bruce Nauman, Simone Post, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gerhard Richter, Gerrit Rietveld, Victor Sonna, Jessica Stockholder and Jennifer Tee.