When is a chair not a chair?

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Having to cut down a dying, 90-foot tree in my front yard yesterday was a sad event. But it brought to mind a mixed media artwork I created several years ago entitled ‘Life after Death’ that touches upon the cycle of life.

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Life after Death   Lilianne Milgrom  Wooden doll chair and ceramic trunk

Looking at this artwork reminded me that I often use chairs as an evocative motif in my art. Discarded chairs by the side of the road have always saddened me for some reason. The chair is a uniquely human object – an empty chair is a powerful signifier of the absence of people just as a chair can elevate the person sitting on it. A chair can take on human qualities and convey a wide range of emotions.

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The Office, still life   Lilianne Milgrom  Acrylic on canvas
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Amen  Lilianne Milgrom (Learn more about this installation here)

Many artists have used chairs as a conceptual vehicle to make political statements. One of my favorite artists, Ai Wei Wei, created a series of works whose fundamental building block was a simple wooden stool that was symbolic of China’s past.

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By re-configuring the stool to make it non-functional, he challenges China’s push for modernization at the expense of its traditions. By using multiple stools, the artist also visually expresses the loss of the individual in China’s rapidly industrializing society.  

Grapes by Ai Weiwei
Grapes, a spiky cluster of wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is part of Ai Weiwei’s repurposed furniture series

Another famous conceptual artist, Christo (1935-2009), renowned for wrapping buildings, bridges, and even islands in swaths of fabric, similarly wrapped a chair to distort its purpose and to ‘reveal through concealment’ according to art critic David Bourdon.

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Christo  Wrapped chair

One of the first artists to use ready-made objects as art was Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). He is credited with being one of the fathers of modern art in so far as he upended all conventional notions of what constitutes Art. In the example below he uses a simple kitchen stool as a pedestal to elevate a bicycle wheel into an object worthy of being called Art. When it was first displayed it was met with outrage and incomprehension. Today it is an iconic symbol of Modern Art.

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Marchel Duchamp Bicycle Wheel (Recreated 1951 from a 1913 original)

At the Milan Design Fair this year, an 8-meter high installation paying homage to Italian designer Gaetano Pesce’s Up Armchair, was installed in the central Piazza del Duomo in Milan. Fifty years ago, it was conceived as an industrial design project that heavily implied his support for women to start standing up for themselves and to fight for equal rights.

Gaetano Pesce UP ARMCHAIR

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Check out the latest New York exhibition ‘The Chair’ at The Future Perfect. In a similar vein, look at all the chairs on show at Brooklyn’s newly launched Object & Thing, an art fair blending art and design with a non-curatorial approach to the 200-plus gallery objects.

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So next time you plop your behind into a chair, realize that a chair is not necessarily only a chair..

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Artist: Keith Haring
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Vive la liberté!

When freedom of expression is muzzled, Art withers and dies. We cannot allow our culture to be terrorized and blackmailed. We must stand together to defend our heritage of freedom and creative expression. In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, France, it is uncannily timely to announce the upcoming interfaith, peace-building art exhibition in which I will be participating and have played the role of co-curator. The exhibition is titled The Bridge (Le Pont) and will open in Paris at the historic Church of Saint Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris.

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I will be traveling to Paris to help set up the show. The exhibition will act as an emissary of peace, traveling from Paris to Brussels, Rome, London, Cairo and the United States for 18 months. I am very honored to have played a key role and to be exhibiting my own painting alongside 46 artists of Arab, Persian and Jewish backgrounds. Below is the image of my painting entitled Narrow Bridge followed by my brief artist’s statement that explains how I found inspiration for this painting in the wise words of a hassidic mystic from the 18th century….

MILGROM Narrow bridge

ARTIST STATEMENT ON ‘NARROW BRIDGE’

“The whole world is a narrow bridge.

The main thing to remember is not to be afraid.”

Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav (1772-1810)

Within minutes of being invited to participate in The Bridge exhibition, the words of a popular Hebrew song began playing in my mind: Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, v’haikar lo lefached. (The whole world is a narrow bridge. The main thing to remember is not to be afraid). I was surprised to learn that these words are attributed to the rabbinical sage, Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav, born in Ukraine in the 18th century and the great-grandson of the founder of Hassidism, a mystical branch of Orthodox Judaism.

These few words have survived intact over the centuries yet they capture the essence of this exhibition. If ever there has was a time to reach across cultures, religions, borders and peoples in order to pull the world back from the brink, it is NOW. My painting ‘Narrow Bridge’ is a crude reminder that in order to bridge our differences we must conquer our fears and reach a hand across that narrow bridge without looking down.

Lilianne Milgrom

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IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN PARIS IN THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY PLEASE JOIN US IN FORGING UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE THROUGH ART. MORE INFORMATION ON THE EXHIBITION HERE.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME AT THIS DIFFICULT TIME.

General Invite Paris -English