In 1969, John M Armleder organised his first public event, the Ecart Happening Festival, in Geneva. This marked the creation of the Ecart group, part of the broader Fluxus movement. Armleder continued to hold happenings and musical performances, similar in mood to those of Georg Brecht and John Cage, until the early 1980s. In 1979, he painted his first gouache on a chair, later titling the piece Furniture Sculpture 1, heralding a corpus of works typical of his artistic output in the 1980s, combining abstract painting and items of furniture or objects.
Furniture Sculpture 189 is a quasi-symmetrical composition consisting of a silent drum kit standing in front of a horizontal yellow canvas with two strips of mauve at each end, hung very low, so that the drums share the same visual space. The drum kit’s upper pads form black circles that stand out against the yellow background, forming a composition that echoes the dot paintings that Armleder was producing parallel to the Furniture Sculptures, the circle motif harking back to both historical avant-garde artists and pop culture.
If other Furniture Sculptures similarly stage instruments, such as cymbals, horns and a cello, the title of the series itself is a nod to its musical genealogy. Indeed, the Furniture Sculptures echo Erik Satie’s experiments in Furniture Music from 1917 on. This was music designed to create a mood rather than be listened to: as Satie himself wrote, it ‘claims to contribute to life in the same way as a private conversation, a painting in the gallery or the seat one is, or is not, sitting on’. While the Furniture Sculptures may be read by analogy as installations contributing to an ‘art of ambiance’, the use of a silent drum kit in Furniture Sculpture 189 also gestures to Cage, a major influence on Armleder’s performances. The work is thus an assemblage of abstract painting and drum kit, holding the potential for infinite scores of musical silence.
Charles Goerg and Claude Ritschard, John M Armleder: Furniture Sculpture 1980-1990, exh. cat. Geneva, Musée Rath, Geneva, Musée d’art et d’histoire, 1990.
Christian Besson, Nicolas Bourriaud and Catherine Pulfer, John M Armleder, exh. cat. Le Capitou, Centre d’art contemporain de Fréjus, Milan, Electa, 1994.
Lionel Bovier (ed.), John Armleder, Paris, Flammarion, 2005.