Take a Seat at Modernism Week

By Evan Senn

Posted February 21, 2013 in Arts & Culture

Sitting Pretty in Palm Springs

Since mankind has stood upright, we have been searching for a way to comfortably sit back down. Dating back to the Neolithic era of civilization, there have been simple chair-like usable sculptures, but it seems that there is little certainty in the exact point in time—just after the last Ice Age—between 10,000 B.C. to the dawn of civilization, that the first person crafted a seat with a back and then sat down on it. Throughout many cultures in history, a person of reverence or a civilized person was one who sat away from the cold, damp floor. The most famous example dates to 1352 B.C.: the ornate throne sealed in the tomb of Egyptian King Tut.

In conjunction with Palm Springs’ Modernism Week, the Palm Springs Art Museum is hosting a series of lectures, film debuts, and events, including “Sitting Pretty: A Brief History of Chairs,” taking place today. William Butler will be lecturing on this intriguing and strategic history of mankind’s obsession with sitting. “The chair is interesting in all this because it has throughout its history with only minor reservations been the purview of the people, particularly of the middle class in its various embodiments over time,” says Butler.

Modernist furniture involves amazing innovation, sleek details, boundary pushing lines and specifically Modern designs. The art of the chair has involved every kind of culture, and the differences between the cultural evolutions of sitting can characterize our lifestyle and interests as well. From the throne to the barstool, chairs have implications that not only tell us information about the person sitting, but can also tell us about where they are sitting. Chair design is as unique as each person sitting in a chair, but in the Modern era of furniture and lifestyle design, some designers came soaring to the top of the charts, and still reside there.

Museums like MoMA, LACMA and The Getty have recognized the importance of furniture design in art, and thanks to designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Eerp Saarinen, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, Philippe Starck and Charles & Ray Eames, so has the rest of the world. This week’s lecture by Butler takes place in Palm Springs, the time capsule city of the relics of Modernism. The City of Palm Springs celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and driving around the nicer neighborhoods of Palm Springs, you would think it was still 1961. This area is known for its Frank Sinatra-style and martini-time vibe. The lecture series will go into depth about the design history of the seat, including the iconic Modernist furniture designs. Here’s a sneak peek at the gorgeous and playful designs that have changed the way we think about where we sit.

Butler says, “When I look at the vast archive of the chair and its relevance to daily life, the one thing of which I can be certain is the sure bet that if you don’t like the way things are going now in chair design, wait a bit, there will most certainly be another standard shattering shift, driven by taste, technology, caprice or discovery or a fusion of them all.”

“Sitting Pretty: A Brief History of Chairs” at Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72-567 Highway 111, Palm Desert, (760) 346-5600; www.psmuseum.org. Thurs, Feb. 21. 5PM


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