WHEN IS A CHAIR NOT JUST A CHAIR?

The Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) has just opened a new exhibit of contemporary works by Chinese artist Wang Huaiqing.

Not being familiar with this artist, I had no idea what to expect when I first stepped into the galleries last week, yet I was completely captivated by what I saw.

Almost all of Wang Huaiqing’s paintings have a central theme of furnishings and architectural features.

The interior designer in me was fascinated and very pleased. I was seeing a whole new take on furniture!

This particular artist views furniture as a microcosm of Chinese architecture and society. It comes as no surprise, then, that in some of the paintings there is a very fine line between the two.

Hence a painting of architectural columns, or pillars, seems to morph into something else.

As it happens, the Chinese word for ‘Pillar” also means “pivotal figures” (as in human beings who have made a difference to society) which explains why these particular columns look a little like human beings.

From afar, these same pillars take on the appearance of a cluster of trees in a forest.

A painting of a chair seems ordinary enough, until you notice that the seat isn’t quite attached to the legs or back rails.

In other paintings, the chairs look like they’ve exploded off the canvas. As in literally exploded – with chunks of real wood affixed to the walls outside the picture frame!

When have you ever seen that in a museum?

I’ve been told that while the exhibit was being installed, the artist decided exactly where those pieces of wood would go and hung them himself.

It’s all very tactile and carefully thought out.

My favorite piece is called “Homeless Chairs” – featuring an enormous collection of chairs sitting forlornly in a city dump.

One can’t help but see a direct and frank commentary on our throwaway society and the fate of furniture that is no longer needed.

It was also evident that these forlorn looking chairs formed a visual analogy – that of our elderly citizens and how they are sometimes treated by society.

For copyright reasons, I am unable to share any images on this site, much as I would love to. I would therefore encourage a visit to SAAM, especially if you live in the area.

You won’t be disappointed.