In Situ

A new exhibition at Objectspace charts the evolution of chair design in Aotearoa over 170 years.

In Situ

A new exhibition at Objectspace charts the evolution of chair design in Aotearoa over 170 years.

What is it about chairs? They have an inherent usefulness – and often that includes more than just sitting – which carries a certain appeal. Beyond that, there is something about the size and scale of a chair that attracts both designers and consumers: they’re a perfect small design, in a way. They’re also one of the very few things you can’t do without: somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep.

Perhaps that’s why we’re so drawn to one of the most important chairs in Objectspace’s upcoming exhibition, curated by director Kim Paton, of 110 New Zealand chairs, covering 170 years and 83 designers and makers, 14 of them unknown. The earliest of them was found in Russell in 1944, produced in the 1800s by an unknown whaler. It was made from a whale vertebra, with three bones inserted for legs, by a whaler who needed something to sit on. (There is no record of what he did for a bed.)

That chair is in the Auckland Museum and far too fragile to be moved: instead, Objectspace commissioned a three-dimensional model of it. The rest are original. They cover history from the late 1800s, through the Arts and Crafts movement, modernism, the Studio Furniture movement and on to contemporary designs. In doing so, they capture the history of design in this country. “Key moments come and go,” says Paton. “Pragmatism can be seen in the design of chairs in Aotearoa at every turn – so too can the impact of access (or lack of it) to local manufacturing, materials and global trade.”

For Paton, adaptation is key as a local design culture emerges. “Nothing is entirely new, nothing is its own island,” she says. “While it shares territory with copying and appropriation, it also offers a path to iterative change and innovation. It is how a design culture emerges over time: how we find a unique voice.”

As part of the exhibition, Objectspace commissioned a number of photographs of chairs in their natural environments. Here are some highlights.

The Chair

Until 3 March, 2024




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