Dezeen Magazine

Conversation Pieces

SFMOMA furniture exhibition features "conversation starters"

Designers including Bethan Laura Wood and Maarten Baas have contributed a range of "sometimes jarring" chairs and lighting to an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Called Conversation Pieces: Contemporary Furniture in Dialogue, the exposition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) features 45 pieces of furniture and decor "that prioritise meaning and material choice over function and practicality".

Chair by Jae Sae Jung Oh
Jay Sae Jung Oh presented an otherworldly chair

"The works on view are sometimes jarring, often bold and always conversation starters," said the museum.

Drawn entirely from the SFMOMA collection, some of the pieces were chosen purely for their alternative appearance, such as an otherworldly leather and plastic armchair by South Korean designer Jay Sae Jung Oh.

Comb-style chair by Germane Barnes
Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown was designed by Germane Barnes

Other pieces of furniture were selected for their commentary on social issues. For example, a piece by American architect Germane Barnes is a porch chair topped with an oversized backrest shaped like a milled wood comb.

Called Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown, the piece was described by Barnes as a representation of Black hair, meant to highlight how Black hair "is often policed and frowned upon instead of celebrated as it should [be]".

Bright blue clay chair by Maarten Baas
Maarten Baas' contribution features a bright blue clay chair

Dutch designer Baas and Italian architect Gaetano Pesce were also included in the exhibition.

Baas created a bright blue chair covered with clay while Pesce contributed an organic-looking fabric and resin chair called Seaweed, which resembles clumps of tangled algae.

A series of lighting designs accompanied the furniture. British designer Bethan Laura Wood created a spindly glass and metal chandelier called Criss Cross Kite.

Fabric and resin chair by Gaetano Pesce
Gaetano Pesce contributed a fabric and resin chair called Seaweed

"A chandelier is normally a very fancy-pantsy centre light," said Wood, reflecting on her work.

"I definitely want to play with this idea of fantasy within the thing."

Unique Girl lamp by Katie Stout
Unique Girl is a playful lamp by Katie Stout

American designer Katie Stout's ceramic lamp Unique Girl was also on display. The lighting piece is characterised by an abstract figure that the designer said is meant as a commentary on domesticity and femininity.

All of the furniture in the exhibition was arranged across a deep red carpet interspersed with amorphously shaped plots of floor space to form a meandering pathway.

Books by the exhibited designers as well as texts that inform their work were positioned in piles on the floor next to their respective furniture pieces.

"For the designers who did not yet have a book on their practice, we wrapped a large book in black paper to signal [the idea of a] 'missing book or scholarship," said SFMOMA curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher.

"We found that most of the missing books were for women designers," she added.

Winding exhibition space
The exhibition was curated within a winding space

"Sparking dialogue throughout the gallery, Conversation Pieces presents chairs and lamps that surprise and garner attention unapologetically," said SFMOMA.

Last year, the San Francisco museum showcased an exhibition of work by architect Neri Oxman, while it recently became the first museum to acquire a module from the Japanese Nakagin Capsule Tower.

Conversation Pieces: Contemporary Furniture in Dialogue was on display at the SFMOMA from 20 August 2022 to 25 June 2023. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

The images are courtesy of SFMOMA.