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Should We Be Uncomfortable With Furniture in Art Galleries?

  • September 24, 2022

Most contemporary art galleries have little in common with our homes. The artworks on display might deal with quotidian subjects, but exhibitions tend not to look like domestic settings. Their white walls, harsh overhead lights, and quiet atmosphere all point toward their apparent purpose: to encourage the viewer to give their full attention to the art on show, to let it dominate their perception completely. In the white-walled, “non-domestic” gallery, it is just you and the artwork. Such a communion between the exhibition and the viewer seems to require total abstraction from the detritus of everyday life. But what happens when the gulf between home and gallery is crossed? At first, seeing exhibitions incorporating home furnishings worried me; they seemed to dilute the distilled experience I describe above, placing artworks alongside products and turning galleries into shops for luxury goods. But this worry is misguided. Furniture is a false flag that does not reliably signal commercialism. In fact, a space that feels like home can facilitate an embodied kind of engagement with art that the barren art galleries we are used to do not offer.

Orlando is the name of one of Virginia Woolf’s characters, a never-aging writer and aesthete. Last year, Pi Artworks in London staged a group exhibition titled An Ode to Orlando which imagined what their home might look like if they were alive today. Orlando is also the name of a loveseat made by Ada Interiors, a luxury interior design brand whose furniture was on show as part of the exhibition. Being used to sparsely furnished non-domestic galleries, seeing the trappings of a bourgeois home life invading this exhibition felt jarring. It reminded me that the paintings and sculptures on show were not just there for me to enjoy as a viewer; they were

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