Can furniture be art?

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A growing number of collectors, museums and gallery owners seem to think so. Collectors are paying for contemporary, hand-crafted pieces of furniture as an investment in the future. Museums have often only exhibited antique furniture but more and more are commissioning their own contemporary works for display.

Art furniture dates back to the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement in Europe. It became a much more popular movement in the US in the following century and was based on a rejection of mass produced, modern furniture. It also rejected modern materials and preferred to work with wood. There was a boost in handmade furniture during the 1950’s combining modern aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

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Is there a relationship between art and furniture? Furniture generally provides a functional use but this doesn’t exclude the fact that it can also be the expression of individual creativity and a marriage of art and utility. Should a cabinet look like a sculpture or be a sculpture that incredibly reveals itself as a cabinet?

Modern furniture can become art in some ingenious and unusual ways. Pieces have been designed for small, city apartment living which can be used and then folded to hang on the wall like a work of art.

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This seems to be the perfect combination of functional, foldable furniture and contemporary wall art. Perhaps an entire room could be hung on the wall and when needed, simply taken down and unfolded. Reclaimed materials can also be used to create bespoke pieces of furniture that have both artistic and functional qualities. Environmentally, it makes sense to use locally harvested woods, salvaged lumber, brass and used industrial steel and glass. Combining modern lines and existing organic materials creates a unique piece that has it’s own story to tell. Therefore, it is possible to design beautiful, functional works of art.

Antique furniture is often viewed as art and it’s upkeep can indeed be called an art form. Decorative items from periods such as Georgian England will need restoration and there are specialist restorers who will work on antique chairs, tables, wardrobes, writing desks, drawers and beds. This is a highly skilled job which can include wood carving, gilding, upholstery, cabinet making, French polishing and veneering. These are the same skilled workers who restore frames for paintings and mirrors, very much considered pieces of artwork. Oil paintings and watercolours can also be restored by cleaning, re-varnishing and touching up missing or flaking areas. In this respect, antique furniture falls quite firmly in the art sector.

Furniture Art galleries can be found in the US and in 2005 a spinelike table by postwar designer Carlo Mollino sold at Christie’s for $3.8 million. This sparked a signal that a new kind of market was developing and there was a growing demand for furniture art.