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Chair-rific exhibition nears close of run at The Storey

John Freeman
An exhibition of twentieth century chairs from the collection of the Design Museum in London, currently running at Lancaster's Storey Gallery, has fired the imagination of many visitors - including local councillor Ron Sands.
The Century of Chairs exhibition came to Storey Gallery directly from its previous showing at the 2011 Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Korea where it attracted more than 420,000 visitors.

This exhibition encourages visitors to consider the significance of the chair, illustrating how designers have responded to shifts in the way we choose to rest our legs, and how they have made use of new materials and technologies to create beautiful, sculptural forms.
"You must see it," he enthuses. "I have never seen such a surprising arrangement in any gallery anywhere, with chairs hanging from the ceiling, on raised platforms of different heights and even, yes, standing on the floor in short rows (not many). Over fifty chairs of unimaginable variety, shape, colour and material, all guaranteed to instil wonder, admiration, smiles, and even the occasional wince. It is impossible in words to do justice to this collection from London’s Design Centre."

The chair has a simple function - to elevate and support the sitter whilst they eat or read, work or lounge. A chair usually has a seat, four legs, and a back. A chair without a back is a stool, when raised up this is a bar stool. A chair with arms is an armchair.
The different ways we use a chair, along with technological developments and cultural shifts, have influenced the vastly different designs found in this exhibition. As long as a chair fulfils its intended function, the designer is able to create it in any form, using any material and process available.

This scope for creative interpretation has made the chair a very desirable project for designers to undertake. They have transformed the simple chair from a humble resting place into a glamorous, and much sought after, sculptural commodity, and a design icon. Chairs fill the archives of design museums across the world, demanding more cultural space and higher prices than any other piece of furniture.
In the early 1900s, expectations of what a chair looked like were based on traditional cabinet-making techniques. Impressionism had made Parisian café culture ‘de rigueur’, creating a demand for café style seating similar to that seen in paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Degas. In the 1920s, designers such as Le Corbusier, Charles & Ray Eames, and Marcel Breuer, used tubular steel, perfectly capturing the Modern Movement’s machine-age aesthetic. The Panton chair expresses the technocratic optimism of the 1960s, whilst Jane Atfield’s RCP2 Child’s Chair reflects our current desire to develop sustainable and ‘low impact’ design.

"I lost count of the various materials used – including wood, fibreglass, steel, recycled plastic, polyethylene, wire and – my own favourite – a cork stool, shaped like a pouffe and very solid," says Ron. "This last one designed, apparently “to help the cork industry out of a crisis”, and guaranteed to be rot and insect proof. Other examples include the cantilevered ziz-zag chair made of polished plywood, the bikini chair and the plastic hour glass chair.
"But I guess every visitor will have their own favourite. Give yourself a most unusual treat and see this startling and impressive exhibition before it is gone forever."

- The exhibition guide can be downloaded here. There is a series of Talks on Art related to this exhibition
- An Exhibition of Chairs is at the Storey Gallery, The Storey, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster LA1 1TH runs until 7th April 2012. Opening Times: 11am - 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, late night until 8.30pm on Thursdays. Admission £2