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A tale of two chairs: Beauty vs. functionality

A chair is a chair is a chair (shrug), so the cooler it looks, the better, right?

Well, that’s not how it turned out for the Main Museum when it commissioned Los Angeles artist Alice Könitz to create seating beyond the standard bench.

“Experimentation is so valuable,” said Allison Agsten, director of the fledgling museum devoted to Los Angeles art and artists. “We found that by putting the question, ‘What else can a bench be?’ to one of the smartest people we know, incredible beauty has emerged, and real function too.”

The experiment:

Könitz provided several ideas, and the museum picked two: “Circle Chairs,” large, interlocking disks made of dyed wood and polyurethane, and “Triangle Chairs,” stacking triangles about a foot high made from stained wood and stainless steel.

The problem?

The Circle Chairs are “magnificent,” Agsten said.

But so much so that many museum visitors considered them extraordinary art, not seating, and needed to be directed that yes, it was perfectly OK to sit in them and use them.

The Circle Chairs were also a bit unwieldy and hard to configure.

Unlike the Triangle Chairs, which easily stacked into useful combinations beyond normal museum seating, such as low-lying desks and chairs for children, a DJ booth and even a stage.

The Triangle Chairs
The Triangle Chairs (Elon Schoenholz)

The winner?

Thus Triangle Chairs came out the winner, based on staff observations and about 150 surveys from visitors.

“They have surprised even us with their functionality,” Agsten said, “and they are works of art by themselves, so function doesn’t mean sacrificing form. You can have both.”

Könitz said she was rooting for Circle Chairs, but she understood their problems.

“You need a few people to reconfigure the Circle Chairs, while the Triangle Chairs can be moved by one person alone,” she wrote by email, “I was hoping for Circle Chairs to get a home in a public institution, since they work so well in a larger group setting, but of course I’m very happy that one of the chair groups will remain at the Main.”

The take-away for home decorators?

Don’t be afraid to experiment, Agsten said. For instance, just changing the height of a chair can affect the views outside your window and make things visible you never noticed before.

“Those seemingly small changes can improve the quality of our lives,” she said, “but we won’t know it until we do it.”

“Circle Chairs, Triangle Chairs”

Where: Main Museum, 114 W. 4th St., Los Angeles

When: Noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Exhibit ends Sept. 24.

Price: Free

Contact: themainmuseum.org

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