No Title (Table and Four Chairs)
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2009

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Artists

No Title (Table and Four Chairs) 2003
  • Artist Rooms
‘No Title (Table and Four Chairs)’ forces us to reconsider our relationship to mundane domestic objects. The work exactly replicates an early twentieth-century furniture set produced by the American manufacturers Gunlocke. However, its colossal scale displaces the audience from their usual position above the tabletop, allowing them to navigate through a surreal forest of table and chair legs where usually unseen structural details are now magnified. Calling to mind the experience of fictional protagonists such as Alice in Wonderland and the Lilliputians in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the sculpture transforms a usually common encounter into an alien and extraordinary experience.

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Surrealism

A literary and artistic movement founded by the poet André Breton in 1924. Many of the associated artists, such as Max Ernst and Jean Arp, had previously been involved with Dadaism. The movement sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. Cultural hierarchies were challenged by the combination of diverse elements in collages and sculptural assemblages. The movement is also notable for the collaborations between artists and writers evident in the Surrealists' many publications.

Surrealism

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No Title (Table and Four Chairs) is a multi-part sculpture of a dining room set, enlarged to three times its original size. It consists of five objects: one table and four chairs, which are arranged around the respective sides of the table, drawn out slightly to leave a space in each case between the table edge and chair leg. The colossal sculpture stands over ten feet high, tall enough for viewers to walk easily beneath its vast expanse. Although the sculpture mimics the wooden construction of a typical dining room set, it is created with a mixture of aluminium, steel, wood and plastic. The surfaces have been painted with a wood grain effect finish.

Since the 1990s Therrien has created oversized sculptures of utilitarian objects in primary colours or in black or white. The objects he chooses are usually basic in form, including, for example, chairs, tables, plates, bowls and oil cans. It is an important feature of the work that the objects as well as their form and function are easily recognisable. Rather than inventing the style of his furniture, Therrien models many of his sculptures on simple designs from the early to mid-twentieth century. His table and chair ensembles, which date from the early 1990s, were inspired by furniture created by the American manufacturers Gunlocke, a company that was founded in 1902 and was renowned for its handcrafted wooden office furniture. In 1993 Therrien made his first work with table and chairs, No Title (Yellow Table Leg) (Museum of Modern Art, New York), inspired by the first Gunlocke table and chair set he purchased. The following year Therrien produced a related work, Under the Table (The Broad Art Foundation). No Title (Table and Four Chairs) is based on Therrien’s own Gunlocke-designed kitchen table in his home in Los Angeles.

No Title (Table and Four Chairs) invites the viewer to walk around and underneath it, experiencing the sculpture physically and additionally transforming the viewer’s perception of the exhibition space. Despite their physical quality, however, the roots of Therrien’s table and chair works lie in photography. Intrigued by the view beneath his kitchen table, the artist took a series of black and white photographs from the perspective of his floor. No Title (Table and Four Chairs), as well as the preceding sculptures, is an attempt to create the same dramatic viewpoint as in the photographs.

The experimentation with scale also has a psychological dimension, making viewers feel small in relation to these otherwise conventional household objects. The sculpture removes the viewer from his or her usual position above the tabletop, to navigate through the table and chair legs, and investigate magnified structural details that would usually be hidden from view. The experience of walking underneath No Title (Table and Four Chairs) prompts a childlike nostalgia; one which perhaps recalls Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865). The fantastical quality of these literary works may also arguably be seen as an element in Therrien’s sculpture, despite the ordinariness and familiarity of his chosen objects.

Further reading
Lynn Zelevansky, Robert Therrien, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Los Angeles 2000.
Norman Bryson and Margrit Rowell, Robert Therrien, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, London 2008.

Kathryn Lloyd
November 2011

 

Details

  • Acc. No. AR00166
  • Medium Aluminium, steel, wood and plastic
  • Size Table: 269.00 x 468.50 x 362.00 cm; chairs each: 286.00 x 143.00 x 173.00 cm
  • Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008