If artworks tiptoed into people’s lives as a sofa or a table, would the onlooker’s eye view a different picture? An exhibition here showcased functional ‘art furniture’, and took one to an emerging trend in the Indian arts market where furniture pieces mirroring a painting required viewers to see art afresh.
At “Keepsakes”, which was exhibited recently at the Alliance Francaise here, were several examples of functional ‘art furniture’ where art is taken off the wall and re-painted on furniture by artist Manisha Gawade.
This trend could be an “eye-opener” for Indian art practices at large, curator-author Alka Raghuvanshi said.
Juxtaposed together, the furniture pieces may look like copies of artworks but they branch away from decorative arts — primarily a subject for the eye — simply by having a practical use.
But doesn’t this practical rendering of art raise questions about a divine stature art is often accorded?
“If an artist’s painting is adapted as a table exterior, they wouldn’t want someone to spill coffee, or place their wine glass on it, right?
“This contrasts with how a finished painting would be viewed and treated as. Even if something minor happens to a painting while handling it, the concerned gallery or museum may have to pay for it. It is that coveted,” Raghuvanshi told IANS.
The dynamic, however, changes when aesthetic meets everyday utility.
Raghuvanshi recalled an instance during the three-year-long conceptualisation process, when she had suggested spoiling a table Gawade had just finished painting, with boiling water.
“She was taken aback. I told her that she must desensitise herself as putting the painted furniture out there for practical usage would not just mean use but also abuse,” said Raghuvanshi, whose career in art spans over 50 years.
She said that a rough handling of this kind of work is only possible in the realm of contemporary art as there could be hesitance in using traditional, “figurative art” for furniture exteriors.
Used in this setting, the abstraction many contemporary artists utilise in their artworks could work to their advantage as not having traditional reference motifs on a table could translate to freer usage.
“How abstract art would be treated is very different from, say, a Ganesha motif,” the curator said.
Raghuvanshi also claimed that functional art also “democratises” art practice.
It calls for a different kind of interaction with the viewer-user, suggesting a new gaze with which they look at art — something possible only with ‘usable art’.
To take the point further, Gawade said that “art must be anywhere and everywhere”, and added a question that resounds in many pockets of the art world: Why should art be restricted to only the walls?
The practice also holds weight for a burgeoning art market as an appreciating artwork price could also increase it for the furniture born out of it and will also make people hold the pieces dear and pass them down to upcoming generations.
For “Keepsakes”, design studio Wild Ochre stepped in for the design part of things, and its founder Anju Choudhary stressed that it’s a way for people to find artistic expression in regular upholstery in their own living rooms.
“From an interior designer’s perspective, placing art furniture in your homes departs from the usual run-of-the-mill practice of picking a temporary fad,” she added.
According to Raghuvanshi, the exhibited pieces are an eye-opener to what’s really possible in the domain of functional art.
From just a framed work hung on the wall, art is gradually entering people’s daily lives and is something to look out for.