A Random Alley Chair
Some of the finest furniture can be had for nothing. I’m not saying this chair is some of the finest furniture, but I’m showing photos of it to make a point. Regardless of the amount of skill, practice, and passion that goes into the making of a thing, that thing will only have value in the public imagination if it is perceived to have value via a manufactured discourse about its significance and worth.
We all know the story about famous painters, writers, artists, thinkers; whatever, whose work was used to staple chicken houses together in their own lifetimes. Then, after they are dead and gone, some expert, or some collection of critics suddenly declares that such and such work is important, and genius, and needs to be appreciated. Then the auction houses clamour, and billionaires declare that they simply must have whatever it is on their yacht.
Similarly, a perfectly nice painting that had been around forever, but that nobody really said much about is declared to actually be a Rembrandt. Now it is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Suddenly we see the genius.
All I’m trying to say in this little rant here is that the discourse that surrounds an object appears to be a much more important indicator of its value than an understanding of its intrinsic merits. Often, people need to be told what is good and valuable, because they are incapable of seeing it for themselves.
And anyhow “goodness” and “value” are so subjective. Any given Vincent Van Gogh is only worth the amount he spent for the paint and canvas, as an upfront expenditure. The painting is only worth millions if there are people willing to pay that amount. If that was not the case, his paintings would be worth nothing, or they would be worth $20 at the thrift store.
That said, when I went to see the Barnes exhibit at the AGO the other day, I was surrounded by works of the great; indeed the greatest of the impressionists, and post-impressionists. Through all of this, enjoying what I saw very much, I became confused when I realized that the one Van Gogh painting had been giving a room all to itself.
Why, I wondered, did he get his own room? I went in to look at what turned out to be a painting of some kind of roadside fence with a bunch of weeds growing out of it. Yet, there was a raw energy blasting out of the canvas that I don’t think I’d ever felt from a painting before. It was, to me, like being in the presence of actual life energy. Something like the feeling of coming across a dear in the woods; an unexpected encounter with another entity.
But, you know, another person might not feel that at all. I can’t even say that it wasn’t discourse that cause me to have that feeling. Although it did counteract a sense of skepticism I had, which makes me feel like the experience had at least some degree of the real attached to it.
So what does this have to do with furniture? I got way off topic there. There is all this stuff out there that has been magnificently hand crafted by expert furniture makers that is considered to be essentially worthless, because of the fact that it is not in fashion.
Everybody is loving hard on the mid-century modern style right now. That is fine, and the elegant simplicity of that stuff is great, but it also means that other styles are undesirable. I’ve been finding all kinds of handmade, antique furniture on places like Craigslist, or even out on curbsides, for basically nothing. I’ve decorated my entire house in a princely way with things that I consider to be masterpieces, simply because they are out of style.
This chair was one I found in an alley in Montreal. It was one of many. Sometimes I found hand carved farm chairs that were more an a hundred years old. People were just tossing them because the provenance and the power that the chair had were not evident to them. A one hundred year old, handmade chair, was the same in value to some IKEA chair, or some piece of shit chair that you could buy at London Drugs. Everything is equally disposable if we have no connection to it.
Probably those people are right. Everything is disposable. This significance and object has, via its means of production, and via its history, are disposable if they are hidden. Objects come and go from our lives. Labour is either a personal endeavor that we shouldn’t expect to provide us with any reward other than personal satisfaction. It’s probably way people used to think there was a god: so that there would always be somebody who gave a shit about us doing things that didn’t matter.