The chair is one of the most trivial, ubiquitous and taken for granted objects of our everyday life.
Around the table in our dining rooms, under the desk at school, in the office, in waiting rooms, in
restaurants, chairs follow us during our days and we demand and expect them firstly to ne
functional. We might search for a certain aesthetic appeal, but we certainly do not think they can
have the power to subvert balances and challenge conventions. Functionality, everydayness, and
banality are three characteristics that we will never associate with a work of art. Yet, the history of
contemporary art is studded with chairs, with which artists have measured themselves, have
sometimes upset beliefs and assumption. More than functional objects and a place to sit, these
chairs have inspired and evoked emotions.
Discover the most famous and revolutionary ones! Do you know them all?
1. Van Gogh's chair, Vincent van Gogh, 1988
Van Gogh’s chair is an iconic piece of art that has captivated viewers with its simplicity and bold
colors. An unusual still life, where the main subject is neither a basket of fruits nor a bouquet of
flowers, but a rustic wooden chair with a woven straw seat, on which is represented a pipe and a
pouch of pipe tobacco. At first glance, it would appear to be a simple depiction of an humble
house at the end of the 19th century. But in reality, we are looking at a symbol that tells a story
and makes the subject matter anything but simple.
This work is complementary to a second one, Gauguin’s Chair. The two chairs have been
interpreted as human and artistic portraits of the two painters, imbued with emotional charge.
Vincent's chair is simpler, less elegant and refined than Gauguin's one and the colours used are
lighter and warmer than the darker colours of the latter. They are arranged back to back, as a
symbol of their strong contrasting ideas. Focusing on Van Gogh’s chair, it seems to radiate a sense
of loneliness and longing, as if waiting for someone to sit in it and fill the empty space. The chair
stands alone as a symbol of quiet contemplation and solitude.
Van Gogh's chair is a testament to his ability to infuse everyday objects with a sense of vitality and emotion, transforming them into subjects worthy of artistic attention.
2. One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth, 1965
Who would have thought that a chair could open up to conceptual art? In fact, not just one
chair, but three. Or actually just one?
In One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth represents one chair in three ways. First, as a
manufactured chair, then as a photograph, and finally as a copy of a dictionary entry for the
word “chair.” Kosuth didn’t make the chair, take the photograph, or write the definition, but
he selected and assembled them together.
But is this art? And which representation of the chair is the most accurate? These open-ended questions are exactly what Kosuth had in mind when he said that “art is making meaning,” and he became one of the fathers of conceptual art.
With his work, Joseph Kosuth reflects on the concept of reality and representation, highlighting
the relation between language, picture and referent, turning a simple wooden chair into an
object of debate and even consternation, an instrument for exploring new meanings.
3. A cast of the space under my chair, Bruce Nauman, 1965-1968
One of the extraordinary powers of art is to make the invisible visible, to illuminate what would go
unnoticed. This is absolutely true of Nauman's work A cast of the space under my chair, which
not only makes us reflect on an object that in everyday life we take for granted, the chair, but also
visualizes what we never consider, the space beneath it. Nauman gave form to the negative space,
creating a positive object using concrete. The result is a cast of the space that the chair delimits,
while the chair itself disappears, presenting it as just an allusion. With his work, Nauman denies
the main characteristic of the chair, its functionality. But not only that, he goes beyond the very
idea of the object, visualizing space. What was physical dematerialized and what was abstract
4. Charly, chaise homme, Niki de Saint Phalle, 1981-1982
What if sitting on a chair could be a way to exorcise the trauma of incest? Niki de Saint Phalle's
chair has this power.
Abused by her father while still a child, Saint Phalle’s entire artistic output represents a rebellion
against familial and social constraints, a rebirth and redemption from the traumas of her own
childhood. Exuberant colors and shapes speak of the newfound joy in the new freedom acquired through art, as much in monumental projects as in furniture objects, including chairs. In this case,
the chair has the likeness of a man, on which Niki sits just like a child on her father's lap.
5. The artist is present, Marina Abramovic, 2010
Another chair, or rather, two other chairs, in the spotlight of the art world are those used by
Marina Abramovic in one of her widely considered most significant works and most impactful
pieces in the history of performance art.
The work consisted of Abramovic sitting in a chair, motionless and silent, for a total of 736 hours
over the course of three months at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. During this time,
visitors were invited to sit across from Abramovic and make eye contact with her for as long as
they wished. The piece was a powerful exploration of the nature of human connection and the
power of stillness and presence.
What is performed is a ritual journey in which the artist and the audience find themselves united, able to convey emotions to each other and the outside world, through an almost sacred non-verbal language. People who interact directly with Marina Abramovic are moved, amused, and lost in a reflection on themselves and everything happens while sitting on two trivial chairs.