Furniture of the Absurd

Dorothea Tanning, Canapé en temps de pluie (Rainy-Day Canapé), 1970

Teaching the history of furniture has given me a perverse appreciation for artists who transform traditionally functional forms into sculptural objects that serve no practical purpose. The absurdity of seat furniture that one can't sit on is a delightful subversion of the rationality that of necessity dominates much functional design.

Dorothea Tanning, Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202), 1970-73

 American artist Dorothea Tanning was best known for her Surrealist dreamscape paintings from the 1940s and 50s, but during the 1970s she created a wonderful series of anthropomorphic furniture pieces. In her installation, Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202), a chair appears to have swallowed a human, while a fireplace sprouts strange biomorphic protuberances. This is the hotel room where your worst nightmares come to life.

Quebec-based artist Yannick Pouliot parodies fine furniture of 18th century France, upsetting the high style of Versailles through unsettling reconfigurations. His Empire possessif has a decidedly Alice in Wonderland quality. This Louis XVI style chair is strangely stretched and topped with a second, unreachable seat whose looming presence casts an uneasy shadow on its more conventional downstairs neighbour.

Yannick Pouliot, Empire possessif, Mixed media, 243 x 76 x 76 cm, Collection of the artist, Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Lila Jang, Canapé

Korean sculptor Lila Jang also takes inspiration from historical French furniture, exaggerating Rococo curves to surreal proportions. In her Canapé, an 18th century style settee (canapé) takes an unexpected turn to the right and climbs the wall.

Lila Jang, Anne-Marie

The Anne-Marie chair's overstuffed luxury beckons even as its arms swell to impossibility constricting proportions. Frustrated desire embodied is a beautiful, tantalizing thing.

For more information:
Dorothy Tanning
Yannick Pouliot
Lila Jang