The Great De­bate

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -


Art takes on many forms of ex­pres­sion but the one thing that unites dis­cus­sion about it is the con­cept of a cre­ative process. Fur­ni­ture and art may be at two po­lar­i­ties of cre­ativ­ity—you can say the for­mer is about a de­sign that of­ten re­lates to hu­man us­age and be­hav­iour whereas the lat­ter is of­ten con­sid­ered solely about aes­thet­ics and vis­ual form. Once you put aside fur­ni­ture’s func­tional as­pects and con­sider it as an ob­ject of beauty, it can eas­ily be con­sid­ered art. Many great 20th-cen­tury mod­ernists push the bound­ary be­tween de­sign and art, es­pe­cially for ev­ery­day ob­jects like fur­ni­ture. They cre­ate pieces of sculp­ture that make use of or play on the idea of fur­ni­ture. Or they cre­ate pieces that are at once func­tional but with high aes­thetic value. On a re­cent visit to the Ai Wei­wei ex­hi­bi­tion in Lon­don I found his art­work of fold­ing Ming fur­ni­ture com­pelling. The fur­ni­ture is dis­lo­cated and re­assem­bled into some­thing no longer rep­re­sent­ing the tra­di­tional func­tion of ta­bles and chairs. A very vis­ceral ex­am­ple of how fur­ni­ture can of course be art.

Michael is an ar­chi­tect and part­ner at Foster + Part­ners


The pur­pose of art is very dif­fer­ent from the pur­pose of fur­ni­ture. For me, art is some­thing that adds colour and beauty to our lives. It should be some­thing per­sonal; it should speak to you. It is some­thing that you can study and in­vest in. One can forge an emo­tional con­nec­tion to beau­ti­ful pieces of art. Fur­ni­ture, on the other hand, should per­form a func­tion. If a chair or a ta­ble is not func­tional it be­comes ridicu­lous. Too many de­sign­ers value aes­thet­ics over func­tion­al­ity. Chairs should be de­signed with the in­ten­tion of pro­vid­ing com­fort and good pos­ture. I’ll never understand deep so­fas with soft cush­ions; they’re im­pos­si­ble to get out of—one has to plan the es­cape a good five min­utes in ad­vance. State­ment fur­ni­ture pieces are of­ten vast and heavy, and I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that you can dam­age your stock­ings or your back when you try to move them. Solid mar­ble ta­bles with en­grav­ings may look im­pres­sive, but they are hard to clean and nearly im­pos­si­ble to move. All in all, fur­ni­ture at­tempt­ing to be art fails the test of pur­pose and prac­ti­cal­ity.

Carol Mur­ray is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of stockbroking and property firm Zim­mern

Michael Ng

carol Mur­ray

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