No Title (Table and Four Chairs) is a multi-part sculpture of a dining room set, enlarged to three times its original size. It consists of five objects: one table and four chairs, which are arranged around the respective sides of the table, drawn out slightly to leave a space in each case between the table edge and chair leg. The colossal sculpture stands over ten feet high, tall enough for viewers to walk easily beneath its vast expanse. Although the sculpture mimics the wooden construction of a typical dining room set, it is created with a mixture of aluminium, steel, wood and plastic. The surfaces have been painted with a wood grain effect finish.
Since the 1990s Therrien has created oversized sculptures of utilitarian objects in primary colours or in black or white. The objects he chooses are usually basic in form, including, for example, chairs, tables, plates, bowls and oil cans. It is an important feature of the work that the objects as well as their form and function are easily recognisable. Rather than inventing the style of his furniture, Therrien models many of his sculptures on simple designs from the early to mid-twentieth century. His table and chair ensembles, which date from the early 1990s, were inspired by furniture created by the American manufacturers Gunlocke, a company that was founded in 1902 and was renowned for its handcrafted wooden office furniture. In 1993 Therrien made his first work with table and chairs, No Title (Yellow Table Leg) (Museum of Modern Art, New York), inspired by the first Gunlocke table and chair set he purchased. The following year Therrien produced a related work, Under the Table (The Broad Art Foundation). No Title (Table and Four Chairs) is based on Therrien’s own Gunlocke-designed kitchen table in his home in Los Angeles.
No Title (Table and Four Chairs) invites the viewer to walk around and underneath it, experiencing the sculpture physically and additionally transforming the viewer’s perception of the exhibition space. Despite their physical quality, however, the roots of Therrien’s table and chair works lie in photography. Intrigued by the view beneath his kitchen table, the artist took a series of black and white photographs from the perspective of his floor. No Title (Table and Four Chairs), as well as the preceding sculptures, is an attempt to create the same dramatic viewpoint as in the photographs.
The experimentation with scale also has a psychological dimension, making viewers feel small in relation to these otherwise conventional household objects. The sculpture removes the viewer from his or her usual position above the tabletop, to navigate through the table and chair legs, and investigate magnified structural details that would usually be hidden from view. The experience of walking underneath No Title (Table and Four Chairs) prompts a childlike nostalgia; one which perhaps recalls Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865). The fantastical quality of these literary works may also arguably be seen as an element in Therrien’s sculpture, despite the ordinariness and familiarity of his chosen objects.
Lynn Zelevansky, Robert Therrien, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Los Angeles 2000.
Norman Bryson and Margrit Rowell, Robert Therrien, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, London 2008.