The exhibition, at creative space Plant Seven, is a new kind of market event
Photography by Keith Isaacs
October 15, 2018
Though High Point market may be the epicenter of many things in the American furniture industry, conceptual design wasn’t really one of them. That was until this year, when one exhibition brought a bit of the type of small-batch art furniture more commonly seen at Salone del Mobile or Sight Unseen Offsite to a onetime mill in the furniture capital of America. “This Is Not a Chair” is an exhibition of 40 items that are, ostensibly, chairs, but many of whose designs push the boundaries of traditional wing, ladder-back, or slipper varieties.
“We’re in a moment where everybody wants to design a chair,” explains Michael McGinn, a partner at Standard Issue Design, which curated the show. “In fact, there’s an overabundance of chairs—probably more than we could ever sit in. And we’re not just talking about [those from] furniture designers; you have industrial designers on one end of the spectrum, then architects attempting with their own distinct point of view, and then there are artists looking to riff off the chair as an object—often with a more sculptural interpretation that isn’t necessarily functional at all, which is interesting. The notion that a chair must be this or that goes away. Now a chair can be a conceptual work of art or it can be the dining chair where you sit and read the paper every morning.”
In this show, chairs run the gamut between the two. Models by Studio Sayso, Tom Chung, and Philippe Malouin are beautiful and functional seats, while “chairs” like Serban Ionescu’s “Peter Sellers chair” or Tom Shields’s three-chair mashup, titled “Bones,” don’t exactly invite sitting—though they do invite inspection.
If you’re thinking this kind of introspective design theory sounds unusual for High Point, where talk is usually centered around business and new launches, that’s quite intentional. The exhibition is on view at Plant Seven, a new creative hub whose aim is to attract creatives to High Point (whose downtown, a veritable ghost town in the offseason, swells exponentially during market). Part of that strategy, as envisioned by Plant Seven CEO Tim Branscome and the team at Standard Issue, who were enlisted for creative direction on the project, was to expand the lens of design at High Point.
“We have our long-term goal for Plant Seven, but we wondered, What do we do short-term?” McGinn tells AD PRO of the initial idea for the exhibition. “We don’t have a completed space yet, so what do we do to get people jazzed? So we thought, let’s get something in this building that represents a different point of view, not a traditional High Point point of view. It’s about shaking things up a bit and showing what’s really going on in the world.”
Indeed, many of the featured creatives in “This Is Not a Chair”—like Kim Markel or Chen Chen & Kai Williams—are fairly well known on the international design circuit but had never been involved in market at High Point, which remains fairly separated from that scene. McGinn and his team sought to bridge that gap.
“Having worked in the industry for years and never been to High Point—and having clients who hadn’t either—I thought, there’s got to be something here that I’m missing,” says McGinn. “So that’s when the potential of this started to become real. You could see why an effort like this could be great. The timing is just right for it, given all the young people working these days.”
Rounding out the exhibition is Mill Collective, the show of independent designers that Branscome started two years ago, as well as a shop curated by Dezeen and a bookstore by Draw Down books, both of which push the boundaries of traditional High Point offerings. “Dezeen has a really global point of view, and Draw Down books isn’t your usual museum bookstore—It’s a different, young perspective,” McGinn explains.