• Bernadette Despujols,
  • Bimbo Chair 2,
  • 2017,
  • Kyle Kearson,
  • Land of the Free,
  • concrete bricks,
  • Juliana Cerqueira Leite,
  • Sit,
  • 2016,
  • Hydrocal, steel, pigment,
  • 48 x 36 x 54 inches
  • Robert Chase Heishman and Megan Schvaneveldt,
  • ibid.,
  • 2012,
  • HD video, 16:9,
  • Sound | Color | Loop (00:04:03 x ∞)
  • Brian Galderisi,
  • Untitled,
  • digital print,
  • 36 x 24 inches

per•verse /pɚˈvɜrs/   adj. 

  •  willfully determined or disposed to go
  • counter to what is expected or desired; contrary
  • wayward; cantankerous
  • persistent or obstinate in what is wrong
  • turned away from what is right, good, or proper

Artspace is pleased to present Perverse Furniture, a group exhibition that upsets conventional notions of furniture to explore a range of materially expressive and emotionally intelligent “designs for the body”.  Organized on the 100th Anniversary of the Bauhaus, this exhibition explores how three generations of U.S. based artists grapple with the German school’s legacies and ideological roots.  The artists include: Graham Anderson, Johanna Bresnick, Bernadette Despujols, Brian Galderisi, Robert Gregson, Crystal Heiden, Robert Chase Heishman and Megan Schvaneveldt, Meredith James, Kyle Kearson, Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Esteban Ramón Pérez, Jeff Ostergren and Jessi Reaves. 

The practices on display share Bauhaus’s core concern to understand humankind’s place among machines.  But rather than strive for the possibility of a perfect marriage between art, technology and industry, they interrogate the ways that objects serve our physical and psychological needs. Looking broadly at overlaps in art, architecture and design today, the works are aesthetically antithetical to the iconic objects of Bauhaus design.1  In their quests to humanize design, they are inefficient, weepy, oddball, excessive, loud, legible, performative, humorous, participatory, kitsch, impenetrable, impractical, non-functional, overbearing, multi-centered, uneven, empathetic, multivalent, and sometimes so perverse as to be nearly alive.   

Artspace’s galleries at 50 Orange Street are especially fitting for this show, as they formerly housed Chamberlain’s Furniture, a Civil-War Era storefront and furniture factory.  Even from the outside, viewers can glimpse at the surprises within.  Unpredictable elements bubble up from under the carpets and upholstery in works by Ramón Pérez, Ostergren, Cerqueira Leite, and Reaves, whose broken tools for “living-with” resist the psychological ill-effects of past utopias, and celebrate bodies at rest and in motion. 4  Industrial thrones, cagey mega complexes, obtrusive paneling, and wooly underbellies in works by Kearson, James, Anderson and Despujols, defy our perspectives, turning the tables on power structures of functional design.  Aspirational assemblages by Galderisi, Heiden, Bresnick, and Chase Heishman and Schvaneveldt are fraught with tension, absurdity and laughter, signaling that there is hope.

As the 100th Anniversary of Bauhaus is celebrated by major institutions around the world, this exhibition seeks to recognize how the school’s design principles, utopian philosophies and promise of new beginnings have played out at the scale of the city, specifically in New Haven. 2  From the 1930’s to the 1970’s, New Haven became a laboratory for well-known Bauhaüslers in exile, who occupied teaching positions at Yale and nearby Harvard, as well as schools further afield in Chicago, the woods of North Carolina and California.3  Their architectural contributions command attention: among them, the Marcel Breuer building, curiously perched on 1-95, the Paul Rudolph parking lot, which serves Bowtie Cinemas and businesses on Temple Street, and “The Whale” hockey rink built by Eero Saarinen.  These urban interventions rejected America’s Beaux Arts tradition practiced in the field and taught in universities.  Less obvious are some of the building’s origin stories, filling in bulldozed and reorganized sections of the city under Mayor Richard C. Lee’s aggressive urban renewal campaign of the 1950s and 1960s, often times with little to no community buy-in.

At the core of the exhibition, a specially curated zone explores the mixed reception and nuanced effects of Bauhaus-inspired modernist design in New Haven from the 1950s to today.  One section, curated from materials in the Photo Archives and Manuscripts at the New Haven Museum by historian Jason Bischoff-Wurstle, accounts for some of the bizarre spatial mysteries we encounter throughout the city. This section also tells lesser-known stories of early city planning and the implementation by the unique confluence of public and private entities in the remarkable years after World War II. Another section, organized by Robert Gregson, addresses alluring encounters with the hidden glass prisms of residential Connecticut modernism. A third section looks to Yale University’s foundation course on “The Chair” as an example of how American students of architecture are still taught lessons in direct material engagement, scalability and authorship via the Bauhaus tradition of “learning by doing”.

In 1911, the French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote, “We shall see that the human intellect feels at home among inanimate objects, more especially among solids, where our action finds its fulcrum and our industry its tools; that our concepts have been formed on the model of solids; that our logic is, pre-eminently, the logic of solids.”6  For Bergson, our comfort with inanimate objects leads to a dense web of making discovery after discovery, a process which makes it impossible to determine where one discovery ends and the next begins, or where the animate ends and the inanimate begins. Here, human and object are fully enmeshed. 

This exhibition is co-curated by Artspace Curator/Gallery Director, Sarah Fritchey, and New Haven based architect/artist, Aude Jomini.  It was made possible by the generous support of The Andy Warhol Foundation of the Arts, New Haven Museum, Yale University School of Architecture, and Friends of Artspace.

Events

The Opening Reception will be held on Sunday, May 19 from 1-4pm. Please visit artspacenh.org for the full program schedule. 


About the Curators

Sarah Fritchey is a curator and writer based in New Haven, Connecticut, whose work explores the entanglement of identity, desire and place.  Since 2014, she has served as Artspace’s Curator/Gallery Director, focusing the organization’s energies on the presentation of thematic group shows, educational initiatives and free public programs that address some of the longest standing social injustices of our time.  She holds an M.A. in Curatorial Studies from CCS Bard (2013), a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Studio Practice from Hamilton College (2005), and is a graduate of No Longer Empty’s Curatorial Lab (2017). Driven by the philosophy that “one place understood helps us understand all other places better,” she dedicates her practice to connecting audiences with one another and their local surroundings.

Aude Jomini is a Swiss and American artist and designer, interested in collaborative art practice and cross-disciplinary projects related to architecture and art that can foster community.  She is currently a Senior Associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, and has served on Artspace’s Curatorial Advisory Board since 2015.  She holds a B.F.A. from RISD (2001), and a M-ARCH from Yale School of Architecture (2010).  Before pursuing architecture, Aude worked as a freelance designer in graphic, web, product, and furniture design in New York. She has worked for several art not-profits, including Printed Matter Inc. and Brooklyn Museum as a Curatorial Intern.  She has participated in several projects locally, including City-Wide Open Studios: Wellbeing (2018), where she worked with a team of medical professionals, visual and sound artists, designers and scholars to produce “A Center for Adult Swaddling”, and City-Wide Open Studios: F[r]act or Fiction (2017), where she collaborated on “Upside Down New Haven”, a multi-media flexible reimagining of the Town Green.


Works Cited

1. While there is no singular binding definition of Bauhaus design, and the impulse to settle on even a complex definition is fraught, the school’s three directors did share some core ideological and aesthetic beliefs.  Chief among them were the “idea that a radical break with historicizing architecture and an abandonment of traditional architectural concepts was necessary”, and that they could find a “new and universal formal language for architecture by means of abstraction; denial of symmetry, ornament, and representation; and explicitly visual references to the technical building process.”  Source:  Kentgens-Craig, Margret, and Lynette Widder. The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, 1919-1936. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001: xvii. Print.

2. Bauhaus ideology, rooted in the notion of a comprehensive, scalable, pseudo-scientific system of “objective design” that benefits everyone, searched for expression in planning and urban design as the logical expansion of interior design, furniture, clothing, products and advertising. Founded and propelled by multiple manifestos, it was more than a school of thought, it was a movement, a way forward and a lifestyle.

3. survey of Modernist-era architecture in New Haven can be found at NewHavenModern.org.

4. Cultural theorist Donna Haraway has written about human/non-human encounters as complex ever-changing relationships that resist the tidy determinism of science and capitalism.  She coined the term “sympoesis” and the phrases “living-with” and “making-with” to describe how neither an individual nor a system can autonomously make itself or self-organize. Source: Haraway, Donna.  Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press Books, 2016: 58. Print.

5. Bergson, Henri, and Arthur Mitchell. Creative Evolution. Dover Publications, 1998. Print.