Robert Therrien (born 1947)

Anthony d’Offay, ex-officio Curator – ARTIST ROOMS, and Matthew Gale, Head of Displays at Tate Modern, discuss the works of Robert Therrien, which form part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

[Duration 3:23]

The American artist Robert Therrien presents a world of the unexpected filled with objects that are both familiar and strange. Apparently ordinary things are transformed through scale, material, colour or their juxtaposition with one another. Therrien’s works explore the space between reality and the world of dreams, drawing the viewer into the realm of fables and fairytales, childhood games and unfinished narratives.

Born in Chicago, Therrien grew up in San Francisco and later moved to Los Angeles in 1971 where he still lives and works. In the early 1980s he became known for making objects with simple recognizable shapes such as jugs, coffins and doors, explored through a variety of media including copper, wood and bronze. Through these works, Therrien became interested with the notion of the found object, addressed most explicitly in his series of found brick paper drawings, an example of which is included in ARTIST ROOMS (No Title (Large Red Brick Drawing) 2003).

While some objects Therrien uses are found, many are made by or for the artist. Such works are created with exacting precision, even when blown up to extraordinary sizes, such as the installation No Title (Table and Four Chairs). Therrien began playing with scale in the 1990s and it has remained a key means in his practice to engender everyday items with new meaning and astonishing power. His use of domestic images suggests an interest in the spatial world of the still-life. However, his concern with the interaction between the viewer and their environment has a firm connection to architecture.

The images and objects Therrien chooses expose the hidden drama of the unnoticed and invisible world of human beings, revealing the physical and mental bonds that exist between people and the objects they create to help them live their lives. Therrien models many of his sculptures of ordinary domestic objects, such as tables, chairs and plates, on pre-existing designs from the early to mid-twentieth century, conveying a sense of elegant simplicity and vintage timelessness.

Through his concern with the commonplace and everyday, Therrien’s practice has been associated with strategies employed by Pop artists. His work has also been related to the legacy of Surrealism in the invocation of the uncanny and extraordinary and the dream-like quality that many of his works evoke. However, Therrien’s unique range of imagery and his ability to reveal surprising perspectives and establish an array of atmospheres, from the haunting to playful, defy such definitions.

ARTIST ROOMS comprises a major group of sculptures and works on paper that express the breadth and ambition of Therrien’s work, and together they represents many of the artist’s most significant motifs. Featuring the epic installation RED ROOM 2000-7, the collection also includes two important works presented by the artist in 2010: No Title (Beard Cart) 2004 and No Title (Stack of Plates) 2010.

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