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© Patrick Goetelen

A chair is a chair is a chair is a chair? Not at all. It is no coincidence that it is considered a special challenge among designers to create a chair. Anyone who wants to see how different chairs can be designed will have the opportunity to do so from 28 October to 5 February 2023 at the newly opened mudac in Lausanne. One of the world’s largest private collections of chairs will then be on display under the title “A Chair and You”. Since the late 1990s, Thierry Barbier-Mueller has assembled the collection, which is being presented to the public for the first time and brings together chairs designed by artists, designers and architects. He is the youngest of three sons of Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller and managing director of the Société Privée de Gérance. His grandfather Josef Mueller and his sister Gertrud Dübi-Müller, a muse of Ferdinand Hodler, had already built up an important collection of works by Ferdinand Hodler, Cuno Amiet, Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne, some of which are on display at the Kunstmuseum Solothurn. The Musée Barbier-Mueller in Geneva also houses works of art by cultures from all over the world.

Fascinated by the creativity, freshness and spontaneity of designers such as Ron Arad, Tom Dixon or André Dubreuil, the mudac says, the collector kept adding new pieces until finally a collection of more than 650 chairs from the 1960s to the present was created. The quality of this ensemble is unique and goes far beyond the usual chair typology: “Innovative research and formal concepts, unusual combinations of experimental materials, the play with scales and functions characterise this extensive collection.”

About two-thirds of the collection consists of individual pieces, prototypes or works from small, limited editions and includes works by designers such as Ettore Sottsass, Pol Quadens, Shiro Kuramata and Maarten Baas as well as artists such as Donald Judd, Niki de Saint Phalle, Lawrence Weiner and Franz West. With their forms and materials, the objects illustrated conceptual, experimental work on the borderline of art and sculpture. According to the announcement, it is above all the object itself that captivates the collector, “its uniqueness, its plasticity, the humour it reveals, or its materiality”.

In order to do justice to the diversity and special nature of the objects in the presentation as well, the renowned American artist and director Robert Wilson was commissioned to design a scenography that uses the repertoire of the performing arts. Wilson has the audience “immersed in immersive worlds in which the chairs are treated like protagonists in a theatre performance. Sound, light and scenery are intended to create a unique atmosphere in which “the iconic design object chair and its numerous variations” can be discovered in an unusual way. Like in an opera, the various “chair actors” would be staged in four acts against different backdrops and in scenic atmospheres.

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