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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Museum offers sublime sight of empty Lay-Z-Boy

Mama always said, you can tell a lot about a person by their...chairs? Okay, so your mama may not have said it, but Dayanita Singh's sure did.

In a series of photographs, Gardner Museum Artist-in-Residence Dayanita Singh explores the cultural significance of chairs and their ability as a simple object to provide an array of information. Each of Singh's photographs brings out the distinct quality of its subject.

Displayed in conjunction with her photographs are two installations that incorporate historic chairs from the Gardner collection. The project was a collaborative between Singh, furniture historian Fausto Calderai from Italy, filmmaker Michael Sheridan and art educator Carla Hartman.

Singh is based in India but has been well received in the United States. In a recent project, she photographed the lives and environment of the elite class in India. Singh came to the artist-in-residence program at the Gardner Museum and began photographing the objects with which Isabella Stewart Gardner filled her home. This led Singh to take a specific interest in the many chairs of the museum.

The large collection of chairs, which many people would simply ignore on their walk through the three-story museum, are taken out of the shadows and given their own spotlight in Singh's photographs, which are exhibited on the first floor. Singh's work is the first of three contemporary exhibitions to be displayed there this year.

Many of the photographs have a sad, lonely quality to them. This is largely due to the lack of activity and life in the images. This could also be a result of the personification of the chairs, as they are each different in age, make-up, and placement within a space. One photograph entitled "Ballerina chair" is of a small chair with thin legs held firmly in place, its shadow cast on the wall behind it. If the chair were a person, it would have perfect grace and posture.

Singh's images invite viewers to create their own ideas of whom or what once inhabited the empty chairs. There is an irony in doing this, however, in that they have been, and will continue to be, unused at the museum.

Another photograph is of an 18th-century Italian chair that faces a small table with Raphael's "Piet? ," likening the chair to a viewer of art. The photographs are black-and-white, which causes there to be a timeless quality about them and furthers the theme of emptiness.

The multimedia installation entitled "Amnesia," is made up of an Italian walnut chair with a flat screen built into it. A series of Singh's photos are projected onto the screen, and even an image of the chair itself makes its way into the slides, which would make this chair, what, narcissistic?

The exhibit extends into a room on the second floor in which an arrangement of chairs and sofas has been made. They are placed in small clusters throughout the room, suggesting that a social gathering has taken place there.

Outside of the museum caf?© is an excerpt from Michael Sheridan's film documentation of the goings-on behind the scenes, while the exhibit was being coordinated and set up.

What comes across strongly and clearly in these images is the power of suggestion. Singh's work proves that with a simple movement of an object, or by viewing it from a different angle, something new and interesting can be conveyed.

"Chairs" is Dayanita Singh's first solo exhibition in the United States. She also has work on display at the Asia Society in New York through June 1st.