Vitra chairs find a seat in Seoul
The premiere exhibition in Korea of Vitra Design Museum’s 100 most important chairs in the 20th century chronicles industrial design, which is an increasingly important element in Korean contemporary culture.? More significantly, the blockbuster exhibition, already familiar to Western Europe, North America and Japan through its decades-long global tour, symbolizes Korea’s belated entry into the international design scene.
The exhibition “100 Years, 100 Chairs” currently showing at the Seoul Museum of Art in central Seoul offers a rare chance to view limited-edition chairs ― from early inventions in the late 19th century such as the simple Adolf Loos chair, to the heyday of the Moderne movement in the 1950s by Charles & Ray Eames, to the latest addition, the “Soft Cell” chaise lounge created in 1999, all from the Vitra collection in Basel, Switzerland.
All the chairs are significant in that their designs, motifs and inspirations reflect a specific era in design history while leaving a lasting influence on art, architecture and design. The exhibition showcases the world’s rarest pieces ― “For the Hygiene Exhibition, Dresden” (1930) is one of only three such chairs still in existence, and the highly collectible “Miss Blanche” (1988) by Shiro Kuramata, sold for 45,500 British pounds ($79,000) at the 1997 Christie’s Auction in London. Also on show is the mass-produced “No. 3107” chair by Arne Jacobsen, first introduced in 1955.
The 100 display items were selected from the 6,000 or so furniture pieces owned by the Vitra Design Museum, which was the source of the A-to-Z design encyclopedia “1000 Chairs” by Taschen Books, according to Alexander von Vegesack, the museum director. Mr. von Vegesack visited Seoul last week for the opening of the exhibition. “Chairs are so close to our body, reflecting social and cultural aspects of life as well as fashion, art and architecture, which is why architects and other art-related professionals start out by designing chairs,” Mr. von Vegesack said.
Along with the chairs, displayed in chronological order on the museum’s first floor, there are also portraits of celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard, Audrey Hepburn and even Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, posed on or with the chairs.
While viewing, avid collectors might notice striking similarities in concepts, production methods and materials between two chairs: the curvy “Armchair” (1930-31) by Alvar Aalto and the chaise lounge “Isokon” (1933-34) by Marcel Breuer.? Both designers knew how to turn a block of hard wood into pliable pulp that could be curved like a sheet of paper. ?“You see, they were friends in those days and so influenced each other,” Mr. von Vegesack commented.
When asked about rampant abuse of design copyrights in Asia, Mr. von Vegesack said that if innovative ideas are not protected, the industry’s development will stagnate.? Then companies and manufacturers will face the same problem, he said, that once having developed by copying others’ designs, their own new designs would ironically also be copied.
Other than Japan, where the Vitra Museum first toured more than 15 years ago, this is the first place in Asia the exhibition has been displayed. Its next stop is a return to North America, followed by Europe and South America.
by Ines Cho
The exhibition “100 Years, 100 Chairs” runs until April 30. The Seoul Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (7 p.m. on weekends) daily, but is closed on Mondays. Admission is 6,000 won ($6) for adults, 3,000 won for students and 1,500 won for children. The museum is located near City Hall, downtown Seoul.? For more information, call (02) 2124-8000 or visit the Web site, www.seoulmoa.org.