Furniture designed with users in mind

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Furniture designed with users in mind

The idea of a furniture exhibit might be intimidating to some people, conjuring up images of chic, haughty-looking sofas and luxurious decor that has very little to do with most people’s ways of life. That’s an understandable generalization; recent furniture exhibits in Seoul gave exactly that impression, focusing on Italian designers known for their trendy, modern sensibilities.
Mentioning the name of Jean Prouve, the 20th-century French designer and architect, might only make matters worse, considering that copies of his furniture designs are sold in shops by the hundred in upscale Gangnam.
But anyone who sees the original Jean Prouve pieces now being shown at Kukje Gallery, in an exhibit that brings together the late designer’s works in Korea for the first time, will come away questioning the idea that modern furniture has to be overtly stylish.
Indeed, when was the last time you heard words like “honesty” and “logic” used in describing a chair design, as one often does with Prouve’s works? He once said, “Never design anything that cannot be made,” which suggests the importance simplicity has in his work.
Prouve, who lived from 1901 to 1984, was originally trained as an ironworker. He opened his own workshop in 1923, where he produced metal items like lamps, staircases, grills and handrails. Later, he collaborated with architects and interior designers such as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret on the production of standardized building items such as windows, doors and movable partitions.
Eventually, some of those designers came together to launch a union of modern artists, with a manifesto calling for “logic, balance and purity.”
Prouve’s artistic concepts were heavily influenced by his father, Victor Prouve, a painter who led an art collective called “l’Ecole de Nancy,” which was dedicated to making art accessible to the public.
Fittingly, most of Jean Prouve’s designs were used for public spaces, such as town halls, libraries, churches, universities, government offices and housing projects.
Most of Prouve’s chairs and tables are far from ornamental; they tend to be simple forms, often made with plain plywood. But they incorporate sophisticated ergonomic theories.
His experiments with functionality were a precursor to prefab architecture; this can be seen in his portable houses. His ideas were influential in the development of nomadic architecture, and tended to emphasize portability. Some examples of this are on display at Kukje, including his aluminum sun shutter.
In addition to Prouve’s solo designs, the gallery is showing collaborative works and pieces by other designers. A wooden table and a wall-mounted bookshelf he made with Charlotte Perriand are on display, along with a lamp by Serge Mouille, which shows a trace of kinetic sculpture by Alexander Calder, who was a friend of Prouve’s.
“Prouve’s construction forms display an economy of materials and means,” said Philippe Jousse, a critic and a furniture dealer. “....[H]is construction work reflects a genuine industrial aesthetic, the result of an ongoing dialectic between the design and the material. “

by Park Soo-mee

The exhibition runs through March 31 at Kukje Gallery. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is 5,000 won ($5). The nearest subway station is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 1. For more information, call (02) 735-8449.
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