Martine Syms, Aunty (11), 2018, painted steel chair, woven polyester strap © Martine Syms, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki
The woven polyester coverings of a steel chair don’t seem like an obvious choice for an artist’s canvas, but Martine Syms has proven herself to be not your typical thinker. As part of the American artist’s 2018 exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London, she produced a set of a dozen chairs adorned with fluorescent straps covered in the printed text. (The chairs were also shown at this year’s Frieze London.) It sounds simple, perhaps, but the blending of art and industrial design, and neon and sans serif words is a visual treat for the eyes, something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Syms has long played with color, text, and dialogue; bending and contouring it to do as she pleases. For her “’Incense Sweaters & Ice” exhibit at Graham Foundation in Chicago, text was stretched vertically and colored purple on a white wall; for “Projects 106: Martine Syms” at Museum of Modern Art in New York, similarly styled with likewise colors; and for “Fact & Trouble” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, a chunky black font on plain white walls. This previous work put human-sized text on massive walls, but for her chairs, Syms is playing with scale, shrinking the font size down to something you might find on a graphic T-shirt.
Left: “Aunty (8),” 2018, painted steel chair, woven polyester strap Right: “Aunty (1),” 2018, painted steel chair, woven polyester strap © Martine Syms, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki
The chair sculptures are comprised of a steel frame that has been painted black with the seat and back upholstered with woven, text-adorned polyester straps. The writing on the chairs ranges from “WHO IS GOING TO GRAB MY BOOTY?” to “ACID WEED XANAX MUSHROOMS MDMA COKE K” and “STOP PROTECTING YOURSELF.” Even though a sculpture-chair covered in slogans risks veering into novelty, the result is something you admire in the context of a gallery but also would like to have in your very cool dining room.
Much of Syms’ work usually relies on video and performance to drive at the tension between identity and contemporary life. These brightly colored chairs seem to have a similar effect, blending sharp humor and astute commentary in a way that feels bold and fresh.