Chairs were among the subjects which Kantor used most often.
A mobile construction made from folding chairs (dubbed "the death machine") was the central, most important element of the scenery in Kantor’s play The Madman and the Nun / Wariat i zakonnica (1963). According to the artist, this construction was to be an apparatus which "would extinguish the action, destroy all the activities of the actors (…), destroy all rational and intellectual human actions, which would operate in an idiotic, stupid and ruthless way".
This is what he wrote about chairs in his text The Chair and Its History / Krzesło i jego historia:
It is low in the hierarchy of objects. It is ill-treated. Its relationships are shamefully passed over in silence, it is a thing definitely not capable of performing a responsible function.
In 1968, during an international meeting of artists which took place in the Croatian town of Vela Luka, Kantor created a mosaic emballage of a chair. In February 1970 he submitted his first impossible architecture design, an eight-metre-high folding chair made of concrete, to the Wrocław 70 artistic symposium. Placed "among street traffic, it was to make an impression of something abandoned". He explained in an interview that:
This artistic condition existed not in the chair, not in the form, but in the surroundings. The existence of this chair caused all of the surroundings to become artistic.
Despite promises, the design wasn’t realized at the time. Lech Stangret wrote what follows:
The organizers of the symposium found themselves in a difficult position. They promised the designs would be realized, but Kantor’s idea caused not only technical but also ideological problems – this idea was seen as a mockery of the socialist monuments which were being raised all over Poland.
The monumental wooden chair was finally constructed in 1971 and placed in front of the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter museum near Oslo. Exposed to the effects of rain, wind and a hurricane, this chair quickly deteriorated, and then was completely dismantled (with the artist’s consent).
The only Polish realization of the design of the giant chair prepared during Kantor’s life was the installation Cambriolage (break-in) which was shown in November 1971 at the Foksal Gallery. In a room stood a fragment of a wooden chair. This fragment seemed to have been pushed inside the room. The giant object looked as if it had pierced through the walls into the neighbouring rooms, leaving only parts of this object visible to the viewers.
In a conversation with Wiesław Borowski, Kantor explained his approach to such ordinary, everyday objects:
A certain manipulation is necessary, which consists in choosing an object and exposing the chosen object to a certain situation. (…) I don’t choose objects as symbols nor do I appropriate objects as forms, topics, anecdotes or physical matter. I only try to revindicate objects which actually existing and enforce their rights on the principle of a disinterested process. A work of art isn’t permanent, it only has a 'moment of entry'.
After the artist’s death, two huge concrete chairs were created according to his design. One of them was placed in Hucisko near Wieliczka (1995), next to a wooden house and studio, which Kantor designed for himself and his wife Maria Stangret, the other was located in Wrocław (2011).
Author: Karolina Czerska, Transl. M.K., December 2014
- T. Kantor, Metamorphoses. Texts about the Years 1934-1974 / Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1934-1974, selected and edited by K. Pleśniarowicz, pub. Ossolineum-Cricoteka, Wrocław-Kraków 2005
- L. Stangret, Taduesz Kantor’s Chair / Krzesło Tadeusza Kantora, (in:) In the Shadow of the Chair. Tadeusz Kantor’s Painting and Object Art / W cieniu krzesła. Malarstwo i sztuka przedmiotu Tadeusza Kantora, edited by: T. Gryglewicz, pub. Universitas, Kraków 1997
- L. Stangret, Tadeusz Kantor. A Painting Emballage of a Total Work / Tadeusz Kantor. Malarski ambalaż totalnego dzieła, pub. Art+Edition, Kraków 2006
- Kantor/Happening, a film, screenplay by M. Cegielski and A. Zakrzewska, The National Audiovisual Institute Polish Television / Cricoteka, 2014, http://ninateka.pl/film/kantor-happening-6-6