Robert Therrien “No Title,” 2003; A Table And Four Chairs.
I was back at the Pont gallery last week, and as before, had a ball with its 25 year retrospective. It wasn’t a ball because of the installations or the artwork, but because of the company I found there.
Robert Therrien’s … umm, well, it’s officially called “No Title” (in English – or what passes for it in the USA); but is better described, as the artist does himself, as “A Table And Four Chairs.” It will come as no surprise that it is a sculpture, installation… it’s not a painting albeit that it is painted. Or put better, varnished. Whatever, we have here a table and four chairs (don’t get ahead of me here, this is my blog and you are my visitors who have to do as they’re told. I’m informed that blog owners have to speak like this.) Anyway, they look like, well, tables and chairs with the one proviso that they are literally gigantic!
It is a monumental piece of work that is as sombre as it is large. I took one look at it and thought nothing more; it was just a table made bigger, the chairs likewise. Therrien’s own idea is to make us take another look at ordinary things – a table and chairs in this case; some crockery in others that were not on display during this exhibition.
The problem here is that it doesn’t take much intelligence to make things bigger, does it? I didn’t get the impression that it was any more interesting because it was big than if it had been an ordinary size: having done my time as a furniture maker myself, I can appreciate a well built table at 12” to the foot scale as I can appreciate one that is at three times the size. My only rule when making furniture was whether I could lift it; working on my own as I did had its limitations – and making something this size would have been well beyond my abilities for the simple reason that it would be too heavy for me to lift. Now dolls’ house furniture… that’s another matter altogether.
I looked underneath the table without a great deal of interest and that disinterest meant that I didn’t look under the chairs – which in hindsight, I probably should have. Never mind, the exhibition’s on for a good few more weeks, so there’s a chance to go back and check. Whatever, the it was all just writ large; even the bolt fixing the leg to the table was a good three centimetres across. There weren’t many super-sized screw heads which may have been used to join the table together – perhaps Therrien had chosen one that didn’t have so that he could make it without having to source some gigantic pozidrive screws. That probably don’t exist because at that size people use bolts not screws. In re-inspecting the photograph as I uploaded it, there are a few pan headed screws attaching the steel (aluminium?) plate to the table itself. There weren’t any others, though.
At that moment, the attendant in the room was changed, the new one being a young man. So, I asked him the obvious question: “is this art?” I added that it could as easily be craft, given that the skills to make a table and chairs are pretty well the same whatever size you make them.
After a short discussion on the nature of art and craft – in that anybody with a degree of hand skills can become a craftsman, it does take a little more to become an artist. I then asked him “what does this say to you?”
He considered this, which is as good a response for me as any because it does at least imply at least a vestige of thought going on. After a few seconds he responded that for him the artist wished not to make the sculpture large, but in order that we might feel small. Now, I have to say that to me this was a revelation! No problems there, then, because I live for such insights; insights are the life-blood of creativity.
As ever, it turned my own perception on its head. Usually, my experience of gigantism is enormous trains and the ships that come into Rotterdam. They, however, are just big. This table was another thing altogether, if for the only reason that we could wander up to it and under it! Making us feel small was a dimension that had not entered my head, congealed as it was by the inanity of everything being big (or flat) here in the Netherlands.
We conversed for a while, which is for me was a rare delight as people who can truly converse are becoming scarcer by the hour. Having already learned something from him, I began to probe. The kind of probing that many people find not only embarrassing but intrusive. Suffice it to say that these are not people who find it easy to converse. Those who can do not mind such ‘intrusions’ as they are merely questions that ask them to expand on their own experience. That in itself speaks of their having courage in their own convictions (which is quite different from having the conviction of the things Rudolf Steiner – or any other guru – said.)
He mentioned that to him it was to make him feel as though he were a child again, what with everything being so large. I didn’t get to ask him if he had memories of doing this himself because he said something else that I now cannot recall. However, I did get to ask him if it would it be possible for me to climb on one of the chairs in the way a child would. He looked at me in total horror!
Well, isn’t the experience more one of being the family dog, who is at about the same relationship in size to the furniture – but isn’t allowed on it?
The exhibition “Review” is at the De Pont gallery in Tilburg until the 18th of Feb next year. Enough time to go for another jolly down that way! My other post about the Pont’s 25 year retrospective can be found here: “What Do I Look For In Art.“