Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Desert
Edwards Harris Center
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RECLINE/DESIGN: ART AND THE AESTHETICS OF REPOSE

February 15th – August 31st, 2014
Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert

The human body is a classic source of inspiration for artists of all genres, and it is also the unit of measure in furniture design. With the museum’s wide-ranging collection of chairs alongside modern and contemporary representations of the body at rest, this exhibition considers how the figure in repose enlivens artistic explorations of form, function, and feeling.

The human body is a classic source of inspiration for artists of all genres, and it is also the unit of measure in furniture design. With the museum’s wide-ranging collection of chairs alongside modern and contemporary representations of the body at rest, this exhibition considers how the figure in repose enlivens artistic explorations of form, function, and feeling.

With works drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, the beauty and eccentricity of chair design is posited in the context of artworks that explore the human figure at rest. One can understand this aesthetic of repose as a compositional sensibility that is rooted in concepts that each artist explores, such as the body’s relationship to domestic space, spirituality, the natural world, and other people. The diversity of drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures are connected through a balance of composition and equanimity of form.

In turn, the functional aspects of an aesthetic of repose are seen in the museum’s wide-ranging collection of chairs which illustrates the intriguing ideas on form and functionality that inform this great design tradition. A chair can be looked upon as pure sculpture on the one hand, and functional equipment on the other. Indeed, the evolution of the modern chair forms its own chapter in art history. A designer’s reverence for the natural world can be seen in George Nakashima’s handling of wood in his signature lounge chair; George Montgomery’s handcrafted family seating; and Miller Yee Fong’s flower-inspired rattan seat. Other designers reflect the movement of the human form in the shapes of their chairs, as in the squiggle of Frank Gehry’s cardboard seat and the smooth glass waves of Cini Boeri and Tomu Katayanagi’s transparent design. Some designs are eminently comfortable, as in Ron Arad’s plush heart, while for others comfort is secondary to the social message, as in the recycled synthetic creations by the Campana Brothers. 

The figure in repose might hold spiritual significance, and sculptures from the Mesoamerican collection depict a specific, balanced aesthetic quality that is embodied in ritual objects. Images of languid figures show how the compositions and subject matter of classical painting were reference points for early photographers such as Frank Eugene, as well as such contemporary practitioners as Arthur Tress. The reclining figure became a signature inspiration for modern master Henry Moore, who understood the body as an always-shifting landscape in his abstracted, sinuous forms. For Milton Avery, the figure was a steady motif that the artist reduced to its essential form to better explore vivid color. While artists have used the human body as a focus of their abstractions, contemporary practice has also heralded a return to representation, as seen in Duane Hanson and John de Andrea’s lifelike sculptures. Photographs and paintings depict how the human body interacts with others, as well as with the built environment, from public urban environs, to intimate domestic settings and the laid-back aeries of Palm Springs. The body finds repose in most any setting, and artists capture such moments through a wide range of thematic expression.

This exhibition is organized by Palm Springs Art Museum and funded in part by L.J. Cella.

Exhibition Season Sponsors: Joan Dale and R.D. Hubbard, Dorothy and Harold J. Meyerman, Annette and Ted Lerner, JoAnn McGrath, and Deborah and Kenneth Novack.