The History of The Chair is a visually stimulating and highly informative exhibition, that traces the history of the western chair from the fifteenth century to the present day.
Different periods of history have brought with them different approaches to articles of everyday use. The chair is no exception to this this. Form and ornamentation of chairs has changed with the fashions of the times. Despite this all chairs share a common function; chairs are no more than something on which to sit.
The earliest chair in the exhibition is a Tudor stool on loan from the Auckland Museum. It is a raw statement of its function and served as a basic seat for the common people. At this time more elaborate chairs, with backs and arms, were rare and reserved for VIPs (hence the term chairman).
In due course designs and workmanships improved, backs and arms were added and chairs in the form we recognize today were brought into common usage. To infer prestige upon a chair ornamentation in the form of elaborate carving and later padding on the seat was added.
This culminated in the eighteenth century with the development of designs centered around individual craftsmen such as Hepplewhite, Chippendale, and Sheraton. Superb examples of their work have been gathered from private collections for this exhibition.
In the nineteenth century mechanization, as a result of the industrial revolution made elaborate furniture accessible to more people. The beautiful Bentwood Rocker with its many smooth flowing curves became common and is one of the examples of a mass production enterprise.
As machine production became part of life, designers became aware of a new aesthetic that was founded in the starkness and uniformity of machine produced objects. Charles Mackintosh’s Willow Chair of 1904, with its grid pattern and straight lines is a wonderful example of the new design aesthetics. It was far ahead of its time in both mastery of construction and design, yet in many respects it abandons practicality.
Industrialization also made new processes and materials available to the designer, notably metal and later plastic. The strength and versatility of these new materials opened up a whole new range of design possibilities and previous functional conventions could be disregarded. The Wassily Chair of 1925 illustrates how the new mass produced tubular steel could be bent to create forms previously impossible in timber construction.
Later in the twentieth century as plastic became a household word it was adapted to every conceivable use including the chair. The humorous Black Blow-up Chair takes the use of the material to its extremes.
Today we have come to accept the use of almost any material in furniture design. The exhibition will include what we believe to be the Smallest Chair in existence. It is constructed out of pure gold and stands only five millimetres in total height. The brilliant Red Neon Chair designed especially for this exhibition is perhaps the final word on Chairs.
→ The History of the Chair, 1984, poster