Exhibition of chairs

15 October – 12 November 2022

Curated by Tanya Martin

Photo: four chairs from the Stradling Collection

“…chairs are anthropomorphic. They look like us with feet, legs, seat, backs, and arms.”

Galen Cranz , ‘The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design’

We all sit – and we sit in chairs. Chairs are easy to take for granted but are fascinating in themselves. Chairs have been around for centuries and are everywhere we go, with infinite variations. At the same time, those variations and changes can hold so much meaning.

As a primarily Western device, the chair has symbolic social and cultural meaning. Chairs can communicate both status and lifestyle: the word “chair” itself can be a metaphor for a respected position, such as chairperson or a professorship. They can communicate emotion and comfort: the nursing chair and the armchair, or sometimes fear: the dentist’s chair.

The spaces we inhabit are all shaped by our seating. Consider the difference in chair arrangements between a classroom, waiting room, conference room, and living room. The way the chairs are organised is related to how people communicate in these different settings. Different tasks can require different chairs and, as humans constantly change position, shifting around while sitting in chairs, they need to accommodate that as well.

Chairs are also regarded as the calling card or design statement of architects and designers. They are the most evocative of any furniture type and are an example of the blurred border between art and design.

Chairs reflect history through their style and materials. They represent the fashion of a particular moment in time or stand for an epochal idea. Chairs reflect the production techniques with which they were created. You can recognise and understand an era – its social structures, its materials, techniques, and fashions – by its chairs.

Chairs can also tell us a lot about our tastes and aesthetic preferences. They are self-portraits of their users and this exhibition is an illustration of this.

Vote for your favourite chair!

Visit our exhibition and cast your vote for the chair you liked the most

on 16 November

we will count the votes and announce


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