“I think we are getting somewhere,” my chair suggested to me as I entered my gallery this morning.
”Do you mean the construction in my shop here at 150 East 72nd St., or something else,” I asked? It has been a mess for ten months and only seems to be getting worse.
“Our understanding of industrial design as opposed to furniture design,” the chair replied.
“Don’t you ever think there might be a cross over from time to time,” I asked? “I mean there is some sublime 20th century furniture out there. And it is just as true for the 19th century as well.”
“I don’t disagree with you in the slightest. What I am talking about is the nature of why things are made and how it affects the look of them. The furniture industry in the 18th century was, after the building trade, one of the engines of the economy. Hence, the focus on furniture was intense and designers and craftsmen were continually pushed to make things that were not only finer, but better. The furniture business in the 18thcentury was at its apogee and was unlike any that we will ever see again.”
“I am in complete agreement with you, but times change and people express themselves differently. No one wears the clothes that were worn in the 18th century. We have heat and plumbing so the buildings are different. When things change, there has to be a move in design as well. Hence, what you call industrial design is a tangible product of a society’s preferences. The Barcelona chair therefore, represents an aesthetic borne of practicality. I will agree that it doesn’t approach a piece of 18th century furniture in lots of ways that are subtle and learned through intense trial and error. But that the design of modern furniture can be dismissed as industrial isn’t quite fair.”
“I am not dismissing it. If you can classify plants and animals, why can’t you classify furniture, or anything else for that matter? And the dismissal is in your head. I admire good design and I agree that different eras create different needs and demands resulting in products that are either slightly or completely different from what went before. Listen, if you were to say that an oak tree and a pine tree both give shade and are alike because they are trees, I would agree with you, but if you went on to say that they are similar in any other fashion, I would have to disagree.”
“In my opinion,” I explained, “the essence of an era weights the value of design. And in so doing, it elevates certain pieces to an almost iconic status. That does not always happen with chairs such as you, even if you are the best of the best.”
“Yes, but you must see that I am rare and getting rarer. Barcelona chairs and their ilk will be made ad infinitum and will grab and then lose the attention of future generations as designers keep trying to find yet another chair that will become iconic. I, and my kind, will just remain great.”
Truer words were never spoken.