Sculptures To Sit (Or Fool Around) On: Roy McMakin Fuses Form and Function

Roy McMakin’s 1981 performance “Love in a Charles Eames Chair” posed the playful question: is it okay to fool around on a piece of historically important furniture? The work also introduced themes of form versus function, art versus design, and reality versus memory that would drive McMakin’s work through to the present.

In “Domestic Furniture,” his exhibition of new work at Lora Reynolds Gallery, McMakin continues his wittily hybridized approach to art making. Here, irreverent, referential twists transform functional objects into sculpture (meant to be opened, sat on, etc). By injecting chairs, side tables, and chests with aesthetic idiosyncrasies, cultural content, and art historical innuendo, McMakin topples and expands traditional expectations.  

A straightforward set of drawers evolves with the intentional addition of an off-kilter handle. There is a prop-like, humorous quality to this imperfect gesture—traits encouraged by McMakin’s title: The Chest of Drawers behind James Jamesson and Jimmy Fanz in Raging Stallion Studios’ Timberwolves (2014). The description reveals that the piece was inspired by the set of an adult film. 

11 AM (2014) presents a boldly blue, oversized armchair. It is also a physicalization of a 1926 Edward Hopper painting of the same name. In the painting, a naked woman wearing only slippers, sits on a similar chair and looks longingly out a window. The reference adds to the sense of solitary but secure contemplation that McMakin’s big, comfortable form expresses.  

In A New White Chair from a Dark Old House (2014), McMakin scrambles and reconstitutes Windsor-esque details into a chair designed from memories of traditional ornamentation and, more intimately, past homes. A tabula rasa in the form of functional furniture, this piece calls up a range of references, and perhaps emotional responses, from viewers. 

“The functional use of an art object is so interesting. I figured out long ago that if, as an artist, you allow folks to use your works, it changes everything,” said McMakin. For the artist, utilitarian design offers a democratic, inevitably personal platform for concept and, here, the mercurial and subjective nature of meaning. 

—Alexxa Gotthardt

Domestic Furniture” is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, September 13th–November 8th, 2014.

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