According to the latest exhibit at the Museum of Art, some art is indeed beneath us.
"Sit Down!" features a wide variety of chairs from 1470 to 2008. The exhibition was inspired by pieces the College has owned since 1872.
Consulting Curator of Decorative Arts Laura Sprague states that in order to attain a more "encyclopedic" display, the Museum filled in the gaps of their collection with pieces from various sources, including the Maine Historical Society, Historic New England and Victorian Mansion.
The Museum also used networking to procure work from private collections, relying on friends of the Museum and contacts of Director of the Museum of Art Kevin Salatino.
The chairs are contextualized by the inclusion of paintings and portraits exclusively from Bowdoin's collection.
The paintings, while each contains some element of a chair, correspond with their three-dimensional counterparts in both period and style.
A colorful grid adorning the wall outlines the four time periods contained in the exhibit—Gothic to Rococo, Neoclassical, Revival and Reform and Modern.
The combination of paintings with decorative arts makes "Sit Down!" one of the Museum's more involved shows.
According to Sprague, the College has not exhibited furniture on such a scale since "The Art of Furniture" exhibition in 1972.
Thirty eight years ago the focus was comparing European and American design.
However, Sprague says that "Sit Down!" is an "interpretation highlighting style, technology and meaning."
Sprague elaborates that the meaning of the chairs in the exhibit derives from a human contextualization.
An understanding of the evolution of design from pattern-book-based resources to the wealth of architectural resources on the Internet enhances one's understanding of the display.
Deftly ducking under a band of caution tape, Sprague delineates the range of the chairs, from a Robert Venturi work that combines an old design with a new rendering method, to an innovative design by Hans Wegner accomplished through traditional means.
She also shares the story of a Bauhaus chair, the product of complete departure from historical design that made its way to America after Walter Gropius escaped from the Third Reich.
The historical, human context of a chair makes it appealing to a broad audience.
In anticipation of "Sit Down!" Tori Guen '13 said, "They are chairs: they are accessible and people are not as afraid to say how they feel about them."
"Sit Down!" demands consideration of a familiar object as deliberately crafted artwork.
"Because every day we look at, sit on, and interact with chairs, we stop seeing them as the product of a design process," said Guen. "As objects that are used and utilized we become desensitized to a chair's design...the museum exhibit elevates them as art."
Emily Weir, a shop assistant at the Museum, is excited to see elements of design not usually featured at the museum on as great a scale as "Sit Down!"
"I've worked in the shop for three years and I'm very excited to have a show that's focused on decorative arts," said Weir.
Though the Museum of Art is often lauded and studied for its unique exterior architecture, the self-professed "design nut" said, "The best kept secrets are all inside."
A three-dimensional exhibit presents many spatial challenges. In setting up the display, the movement of patrons, as well as aesthetics, must be taken into consideration.
However, when asked about appeasing the temptation of viewers to "test" out the chairs Sprague had a ready answer.
"If it's not on a platform you can sit on it," she said.
After all, "Sit Down!" showcases designs of the museum's regular gallery seating. Included in the exhibit is the Museum's newest gallery seating option: clear, plastic, stackable chairs designed by Louis Ghost.
"People dedicate their lives to furniture design and we don't appreciate it. We think of chairs as something we sit on while looking at art," said Chiaka Nwosu '13.
Two different talks surrounding "Sit Down!" will occur today.
At 2 p.m., Laura Fecych Sprague, the consulting curator, will speak at the Museum.
At 5:30 p.m., in Kresge Auditorium, Florence de Dampierre will speak about her book "Chairs: A History."
Both events are free and open to the public.
The "Sit Down!" exhibition will be on view at the Museum until January 16, 2011.