Exhibition: ‘Ideen sitzen. 50 Years of Chair Design’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 29th September 2010 – 13th March 2011


Frank Gehry. 'Wiggle Side Chair' 1972


Frank Gehry (American, b. 1929)
Wiggle Side Chair
Los Angeles/Cal., U.S.A., 1972
Easy Edges Inc., New York, U.S.A., 1972
84 x 37 x 59cm
Cardboard, hard fiber board
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun



I love chairs! There are such fabulous designs throughout the centuries. Once seen as the symbol of ultimate power (only the king and queen could be seated) our favourite chair now occupies the place of form fitting sculpture, the place where we feel most comfortable. Most of these works are not of that mould but they are a tour de force of the designers art and a testament to the mutability of the form, chair.


Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Joe Colombo. 'Elda' Italy, 1963


Joe Colombo (Italian, 1930-1971)
Italy, 1963
Comfort, Meda/Mailand, Italy, 1963
92.5 x 95 x 96cm
Polyester, reinforced glass-fibre
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun


Patrick Jouin. 'C2 Solid Chair' Paris, 2008


Patrick Jouin (French, b. 1967)
C2 Solid Chair
Paris, 2008
Paris, Frankreich, 2008
78.5 x 40.4 x 54cm
Plastic (formed with technology of the Stereolithographie/Rapidly Prototyping manufacture)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun


Joris Laarman. 'Bone Chair' Utrecht, 2006


Joris Laarman (Netherlands, b. 1979)
Bone Chair
Utrecht, 2006
77 x 45 x 76cm
Aluminium (poured and polished)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun



With Ideen sitzen. 50 Years of Chair Design the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe is presenting the first large exhibition on recent seat design dating from 1960 to the present day. One hundred exceptional exhibits selected from the high-calibre collection held by the MKG, among them chairs, arm chairs, chaise longues and stools, offer an insight into the most diverse approaches and motivations of design during five eventful decades. The focus lies on the chair as contemporary witness be it as expression of a utopian idea or instrument in political protest, a reaction to ecological changes or a calculated business idea, an experiment with the most recent technologies or a sculptural art object, where the chair – divorced from its function – can only just be recognised as the source of inspiration. Chairs are regarded as the business card of any designer. They are visually more attractive than tables, wardrobes, settees or kitchen furniture and exemplify the increasingly blurry demarcation between art and design.

Designing a chair forms part of the great challenge of any designer. In modernity it seemed to have found its perfect answer in Michael Thonet’s Coffee House Chair Model No. 14, made in the revolutionary bentwood technique. Today, 150 years on, a multitude of new chair designs are demonstrating artistic, technical and social changes. No other object juxtaposes the conflicting interests of design as directly: appropriate functionality versus the free reign of fantasy and autonomous artistic form. A new idea lies at the core of any new seating furniture, which will then be moulded by factors such as use, the market, the target group, the company’s philosophy, materials, production methods, technological progress and not least the designers interests, depending on whether he or she is an artist, sculptor, director, architect or simply a product designer. The expression “same, same – but different” is particularly valid when it comes to chairs: an intellectual and a practical product, which is manifest in hundreds of forms. The exhibition Ideen sitzen. 50 Years of Chair Design therefore becomes a reflection of time and its self-concept, its necessities and the longing for freedom of artistic expression.

A design exhibition turns into an art exhibition once it presents autonomous sculpture. The chair freed from its functional requirements becomes a source of information only. The MKG’s most recent acquisitions illustrate this phenomenon of contemporary chair design and demonstrate the increasingly blurred demarcation of art and design. Some of them are design classics: the famous spherical Sunball lounge chair by Günter Fedinand Ris, the Well Tempered Chair by Ron Arad, chairs by Stefan Wewerka and Alessandro Mendini’s Proust Armchair – the latter combining baroque opulence of Louis XV style with an impressionist colour scheme referencing Marcel Proust’s time. The design positions represented in the collection are expanded by Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair, which was inspired by the natural growth of bone. Vladi Rapaport turned an oversized skull and an oversized brain into seats called The skull chair and The brain footstool respectively. Tord Boontje created the bench Petit Jardin where a tender web of leaves, flowers and twigs made of white coated laser cut steel is embracing the sitter. For Veryround Louise Campbell interlinked 240 steel circles to form an ornamental seat sculpture.

Putting the various ideas and trends in design into their historical context, highlights how directly it is informed by social and economic trends. At the beginning of the 20th Century chair design was dictated by social factors and functionality: good quality seats had to be produced at low cost for the masses. New materials such as steel tube and multiplex warranted new production techniques. The introduction of injection-moulding for plastic chairs in the early 1960s revolutionised ideas yet again. The 1960s are determined by the new prosperity after the war, but also by burgeoning social unrest. The exhibition presents some increasingly unconventional types of armchair, which reflect the tensions of the period. Gaetano Pesce’s Donna, 1969 is both: a comfortable armchair and a biting political criticism of women’s role in modern society. The prospect of growing markets led the chemical and furniture industry to invest in the production of plastic chairs, a development, which found its preliminary end in the oil crisis of 1973.

The 1970s produced relatively few sweeping designs; the decade is characterised by the criticism of capitalism, consumerism and a heightened sense of uncertainty in manufacturing. Stefan Wewerka created an icon of instability when he came up with “Classroom Chair”; the tried and trusted breaks away, dissolves. The American architect Frank Gehry on the other hand developed new chairs from corrugated cardboard, constructing and glueing the layers so they withhold the greatest pressure; his Wiggle Side Chair is a trendsetting seat constructed with minimal material investment and an original design idea. Towards the end of the century Alessandro Mendini created its antithesis when he combined a neo-baroque silhouette with light colours quoting Impressionism – Proust‘s purpose is the quotation of historic style, which makes it one of the early classics of postmodernism. The architectural and design-movement deliberately cited traditional style elements to reinterpret or pass ironic comment on their meaning. Architecture and interior design were turned into an intellectual game.

Around 1980 the postmodernist approach set off the Italian artists group Memphis led by Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi. Sottsass turned to the past and to architectural evidence of the world’s cultural heritage. He achieved new singular pieces of furniture inspired by sculpture and architecture – colourful monuments that for a few years were recognised as style icons. Memphis introduced fun and joy into the hitherto predominantly grey and brown furniture scene. Their products offer entertainment value. They are evocative of ideas, full of allusions to earlier cultures, hip, they cherish masquerade and express a way of thinking clearly opposed to industrialism and market strategies. Memphis’ furniture is simply made, using MDF laminated in bright colours. It is to Sottsass’ credit, that against the Zeitgeist Memphis made use of ornament.

While the group’s unique furnishing objects created a lust for new furniture, designers in Germany, England, Japan or Switzerland who followed contemporary product design conceived chairs from metal – tubular steel, steel panel or metal mesh. Intellectually these designers are followers of the Bauhaus creations from the 1920s and 1930s and their proposals are accordingly ambitious. Apart from Northern Italy Paris with Philippe Starck and Barcelona established themselves as the new centres of design. Starck designed numerous new models of chairs from various materials – metal, wood and plastic – within only a few years. His philosophy is to offer to the market ideas that are as innovative as possible while being fairly priced. He formed the counterpart to a fad from the 1980s, where design objects were produced in limited editions and offered to an exclusive clientele. Artists such as Donald Judd, Franz West and Bob Wilson were designing chairs and fittingly documenta in 1989 had a focus on design.

The 1990s return to a design ethos bethinking simplicity and rediscovering natural wood. Pale woods and a concise and rational tenor respond to the demand for clear shapes with a warm and natural character. Numerous designers, including Jasper Morrison or Axel Kufus, turn against the euphoria and affluence of the fin de siècle. Rifts within the structure of society are addressed by works such as Tejo Remy’s Rug Chair made of leftover shred reinforced by a carbon core and s of fabric. In Brazil the Campana brothers conceive an armchair from waste wood of the slums called Favela. The seat is pointing at the destitution of the residents of the slums as well as the creative possibilities inherent in poor materials. Equally Marcel Wanders’ Knotted Chair makes use of the simplest rope; its carbon core and hardened epoxy fix the knotted structure in the shape of a chair giving the illusion of the sitter being suspended on a soft hanging structure.

In the first decade of the 21st century designers like Konstantin Grcic or the Bouroullec Brothers continued to work on intelligent solutions for large social groups. At the same time young designers such as the Dutchman Joris Laarman or the Frenchman Patrick Jouin employ digital methods of design, which allow them to calculate new ways of construction. They also make use of Rapid Prototyping. Their objects are highly experimental and seem to offer a glimpse of the world of tomorrow. Other designers like Tord Boontje work with laser cut metal sheet to create ornamental compositions. Most designs by the younger scene are produced in small numbers and are distributed largely by design galleries. The seating furniture of a new era is taking up the elitist impulse of the 1980s – produced in highly limited numbers they are treated as unique art works. Museums who manage to acquire such pieces directly from the artists are thus in a position to present models that are wholly fresh to the eye and provoke spontaneous responses.

As one of the leading museums of its kind in Germany the MKG holds an extensive collection on the history of modern design. The collection of seating furniture is at its core and comprises hundreds of examples of the history of modern design of all periods from leading countries in Europe, Australia, the USA, Brazil and Japan. William Morris, Peter Behrens, Henry van de Velde, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Verner Panton, Joe Colombo, Stefan Wewerka, Frank Gehry, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Michele De Lucchi, Philippe Starck, Shiro Kuramata, Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Jasper Morrison, Tom Dixon, Konstantin Grcic and many more designers are represented in the collection.

Designers and artists: Eero Aarnio, Ron Arad, Archizoom, Teppo Asikainen, Gijs Bakker, Helmut Bätzner, Mario Bellini, Günter Beltzig, Ricardo Blumer, Matteo Borghi, Tord Boontje, Mario Botta, Andrea Branzi, Fernando and Humberto Campana, Louise Campbell, Joe Cesare Colombo, Paolo Deganello, Tom Dixon, Uwe Fischer, Formfürsorge, Piero Gatti, Frank Gehry, Ginbande Design, Konstantin Grcic, Gruppo Strum, Klaus Achim Heine, Patrick Jouin, Donald Judd, Toshiyuki Kita, Poul Kjaerholm, Gunter König, Axel Kufus, Shiro Kuramata, Angela Kurrer, Joris Laarman, Paolo Lomazzi, Ross Lovegrove, Michele de Lucchi, Vico Magistretti, Peter Maly, Enzo Mari, Javier Mariscal, Alessandro Mendini, Jasper Morrison, Marc Newson, Katsuhito Nishikawa, Verner Panton, Cesare Paolini, Jonathan de Pas, Pierre Paulin, Maurizio Peregalli, Gaetano Pesce, Giancarlo Piretti, Tom Price, Dieter Rams, Bernard Rancillac, Vladi Rapaport, Karim Rashid, Tejo Remy, Günter Ferdinand Ris, Herbert Selldorf, Hubert Matthias Sanktjohanser, Peter Schmitz, Stiletto, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck, Studio 65, Roger Tallon, Donato d’Urbino, Marcel Wanders, Franz West, Stefan Wewerka, Robert Wilson, Tokujin Yoshioka and others.”

Press release from Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg


Alessandro Mendini. 'Poltrona di Proust' Studio Alchimia, Mailand, 1978


Alessandro Mendini (Italian, 1931-2019)
Poltrona di Proust (Proust Armchair)
Studio Alchimia, Mailand, 1978
107 x 93 x 90cm
Wood, Leinenbezug (painted)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun


Ricado Blumer and Matteo Borghi. 'Origami' Casciago, 2007


Ricado Blumer (Italian, b. 1959) and Matteo Borghi (Italian, b. 1976)
Casciago, 2007
Ycami, Novedrate, 2007
76 x 61 x 63cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun


Stefan Wewerka. 'Classroom Chair' Berlin, 1970


Stefan Wewerka (German, 1928-2013)
Classroom Chair
Berlin, 1970
70 x 68 x 40cm
Wood (painted)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun


Tokujin Yoshioka (Japanese, b. 1967) 'Honey-Pop Armchair' Tokyo, Japan, 2000


Tokujin Yoshioka (Japanese, b. 1967)
Honey-Pop Armchair
Tokyo, Japan, 2000
83 x 81 x 81cm
Greaseproof paper (folded into form)
Justus Brinckmann Society
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo: Jörg Arend/Maria Thrun



Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website


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2 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Ideen sitzen. 50 Years of Chair Design’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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