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April 4 - 30, 2001 at Robert Berman Gallery, C-2 Projects, Santa Monica

by Bill Lasarow

Design meets art in Gregg Fleishman’s work, and decidedly in that order. Presenting these collapsable chairs in a gallery environment, rather than a design showroom, gives us license to consider first their visual properties then their structural aspects.

What has earned the chairs their notoreity is that their seeming flimsiness and lowbrow plywood material are an illusion. The plywood is actually a high quality birchwood product of Finland. The squiggly lines that you settle onto allow for a comfortable give that threatens neither to break nor tip over. When we think of a chair we expect clear planes of material that clarify that there is a volume of space able to provide unyielding support when occupied. Lots of light and air playing through volumes that constantly break open do not, at first, inspire confidence. So the true believers who use the products become insiders to a good natured conspiracy. The joke is on the outsider who sees but doesn’t get it, who could sit with comfort but dares not. But wait, the clever joke extends further still.

Think about how a well appointed room will include both fine furniture and fine art. As we all know in the art world, fine art stands on its own; taking room decor into account runs counter to the ethos of art.

But what if the furniture IS the art? I don’t mean the way, for example, Sam Maloof is able to bring just the right shape and curve to an exquisitely formed rocking chair. I mean, what if you can take the chair that sits out there in the room and hang it right up on the wall? And it never occurs to your guests that what they are looking at is a chair at all. . .

That’s what this show is about. It includes you in on part of the joke even if you never get around to taking a seat.

Since Fleishman’s chairs are built out of flat sheets of wood--the component parts are screwed and latched together to result in the functional object--they may always be returned to the flatness of, well, a picture plane. No tools needed. See that nice picture next to the Alicia chair? Turns out that’s another Alicia chair. Ready for storage. Or display.

The playfulness of what these pictures look like is in sync with the playful illusion that belies the chairs’ ability to function as chairs. Lumberest has the appearance of an oversized cockroach. Six skinny little legs support a tank-like body. The charming monster even sports a pair of antenna. The back and seat support elements that make up the creature’s innards evoke a diagram of internal organs and intestines. The machine-honed precision of the details, however, make the overall effect more cool than yuk.

“Lumberest, C4”, Finland birch with phe-
nolic film and Baltic birch, bolts, screw,
appleply case, 48 x 34 x 4”, 2001.

“Alicia, B2”, Finland birch/phenolic film/
polyurethane/bolts/screws, 1996.

"Surround, A1", Finland birch/phenolic
film/polyurethane/birch ply/screws/
bolts/case, 48 x 38 x 2", 2000.

"New Wave, A1", Finland birch/phenolic
film/polyurethane/birch ply/screws/
bolts/fir ply case, 42 x 48 x 4", 2000.

The organic character of the chairs as images may or may not be fortuitous, but it does come up again and again. Surround conveys the functional shapes of the chair, but the beakand finger-like hooks at the tips of the slightly curved slats, together with the hot yellow monochrome, set the whole on fire. Leg supports at either lower corner, and the lines cut into the circular seat area readily morph into a smiling bust signaling thumbs up. It’s all very affirmative, and quite loopy. Go back to Alicia now and you can see the big-eyed kid with an afro staring back.

Once we get past the intital skepticism--Do these chairs really work? Can I take an image seriously that is, uh, a folded chair?--Fleishman really just wants us to be able to get comfy and have some fun. It’s slick stuff and tricky to pull off, but what makes the visit worthwhile is that it doesn’t get all pretentious or start lecturing us about Art.