A Painting for Over the Sofa (That's Not Necessarily a Painting)

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  • Ongoing: until Sunday, June 20, 2004
  • Sunday: 12:00pm
  • Tuesday: 10:00am
  • Wednesday: 10:00am
  • Thursday: 10:00am
  • Friday: 10:00am
  • Saturday: 10:00am
  • Where: Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence
  • Cost: Free
  • Age limit: All ages

This exhibition explores the implications of the modern notion of art as a mere accessory rather than a visual treasure within the domestic interior. Eighteen blow-up sofas are displayed; eighteen artists have created a specific work to hang over each of these sofas.Organized by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, New York City. On display in the Kress Gallery.What's above your sofa? Does it match the carpet and drapes, the fabric on your loveseat, the palette of your walls? Does it matter?In most American homes, the sofa is often the first piece of living room furniture selected. All other questions about décor revolve around it. The sofa--and the painting, drawing, print, photograph, or even sculpture placed over it--conveys important information about the inhabitants. And heaven forbid that the painting, print or sculpture above it clashes with the couch--or the wallpaper or other appointments, for that matter.Beginning April 24 in the Kress Gallery, the Spencer will welcome A Painting for Over the Sofa (that's not necessarily a painting) a national traveling exhibition that considers the couch as crux for American domestic design--and more specifically how wrongheaded a notion that may be. The exhibition, which "makes a distinctly art-world jest....[of] what might be called bourgeois insensibility," as art critic Joel Weinstein opines in the accompanying catalogue, will remain on view through June 20. Organized by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Miami, A Painting for Over the Sofa (that's not necessarily a painting) features 18 inflatable sofas and works of art that play with the idea of art versus home decoration. These are not knick-knacks for the den. Rather, they are humorous, insightful, and thought-provoking tableaux that invite visitors to sit down and make themselves at home. Featured artists are: Mario Algaze, Ida Applebroog, Ken Aptekar, Louise Bourgeois, Edouard Duval Carrié, Tim Curtis, Rico Gatson, Bruce Helander, Komar and Melamid, Hung Liu, Pepón Osorio, Karen Rifas, Miriam Schapiro, Jaune Quick-to-see Smith, Federico Uribe, Joe Walters, Deborah Willis, and Wendy Wischer.Also in the catalogue, curator Steinbaum writes, "I have been an art dealer for 25 years in New York City and Miami. During that time I cannot recall a week when a client has not asked me to show them a painting for over their sofa. I have seen paint chips, fabric swatches, wall paper samples, room layouts and architectural drawings all in an effort to clarify the kind of painting needed for over the sofa (note that the work of art becomes a secondary choice). When and where the concept of a painting for over the sofa' emerged and how a piece of furniture could dictate the kind of art that would be purchased is curious. "The ornamentation of any environment can tell us much about its inhabitants, as another essayist in the catalogue, Anne Barclay Morgan, points out. "Are they wild and crazy? Or cool and restrained? Are they proud of their ancestors or of their sports achievements? That particular work of art is often the most valuable in the owner's possession. Captions of luscious interiors in Architectural Digest include the names of the artist and the artwork placed behind or near the sofa....conveying prestige, and the unerring eye of knowledgeable ownership."Consider, too, that this is not necessarily a wholly modern notion. In fact, art and the dwelling have co-existed throughout recorded history: Humans have moved from sitting and sleeping on the ground, surrounded by ceremonial cave paintings, to occupying higher ground--chair, throne, bench, settee (two person chair) and sofa. And although the "living room" only received its name after World War II, the sofa in Western society now plays a central role in gathering family and friends for ordinary and special occasions as well as, in many homes, establishing prime viewing locations for another icon of modernity--for better or for worse--the television. Along with the sofa carrying remnants of status (i.e.- who occupies the center attention), what hangs above the sofa has status too. After all, from our earliest recorded history, art has been a powerful tool of communication.Anchored, as such, by look-a-like, disposable-looking blow-up sofas--a none too subtle reference to the sofa's inflated importance in selecting the art above it within the preponderance of contemporary homes--A Painting for Over the Sofa (that's not necessarily a painting) causes viewers to consider the ironic: in the presence of these "inflated" sofas, the art is precisely what you talk about. We are left, then, with an installation that combines engaging and thought-provoking art within the context of domestic architecture. Unquestionably, the 18 unique works of art in this exhibition challenge the notion of art as decorative element. Indeed, they serve to demonstrate, ultimately, the unsuitable characteristic of art as accoutrement.

This event was posted Jan. 21, 2004 and last updated Sept. 16, 2014

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