Rick Owens: Furniture is the first US museum exhibition devoted to the furniture and sculpture of renowned Paris-based fashion and furniture designer Rick Owens (b. 1961, Porterville, California). Best known for the iconic, eponymous clothing label he founded in Los Angeles in 1994, Owens has consistently drawn inspiration for his fashion and furniture collections from a vast array of art historical sources that span Modernist design, Brutalist architecture, monochrome painting, Minimal art, and avant-garde dance. His spectacular runway shows function as a form of performance art and have referenced the work of designer, musician, and artist Leigh Bowery (1961–1994) as well as Stepping, a dance form associated with black fraternities and sororities in which the whole body is used as an instrument. By casting models of varying body types, Owens’s runway shows often challenge culturally constructed notions of beauty promoted by the very industry in which he works. Since 2007 Owens has applied a similarly radical sensibility to furniture, creating jagged and elegant forms made from marble, alabaster, bronze, ox bone, leather, and plywood. His earliest works—angular stools and chairs made of plywood and adorned with moose antlers or embellished with mink—juxtaposed the reduced geometries of Minimalism with the lavish, gothic decadence of late nineteenth-century France. This exhibition was organized in close collaboration with Michèle Lamy (b. 1944, Jura, France), Owens’s longtime partner and the primary creative force and producer of Owens’s furniture line. For this exhibition, Lamy worked with a variety of artisans and craftsmen to realize and execute the designs, establishing a temporary studio space in Los Angeles in November, 2016.
Owens’s recent furniture suggests a design sensibility inspired by the geometry, materials, and monochrome palette found in the work of artists associated with 1960s Minimalism. Working across media, these artists redefined ideas of artistic production, often through an extreme and reductive use of form. Using industrial, pre-fabricated, commercially available materials including plywood, metal, concrete, and Plexiglas to create geometric and serial forms, artists such as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, John McCracken, Robert Morris, and Anne Truitt, among others, challenged conventional notions of authorship, originality, and artistic labor. Owens’s furniture draws on this legacy and the varied styles and practices of artists associated with the movement. For example, Boudeuse (2011), a hulking, rectangular construction of black painted plywood and alabaster, pays homage to Judd’s Bed of 1979. So too does Owens’s black painted plywood Half Box Chair (2011) recall Judd’s similarly pared down Chair (1989) made of cherry wood. For this exhibition, Owens has created a new series of totems (2016) reminiscent of Truitt’s Twilight Fold (1971) or any number of her signature, banded acrylic on wood columns. Also included in this exhibition is a group of foam, concrete, and metal benches covered in camel skin, evoking John Chamberlain’s explorations with urethane foam from the 1960s.