By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Proof of Miller's skill at making the most of the least is his reinstallation of the design collection on the second floor of the North Building, better known as the Ponti. Coming through the Duncan Pavilion and into the dramatic and soaring Northwest Coast gallery, visitors arrive at the spaces highlighting the design department's treasures. On the left are decorative arts in cases, and on the right, a three-stepped platform on which chairs are displayed. Since gallery-goers will move from south to north on their way into the Ponti, Miller has arranged the objects so that the oldest come first. His topic is the last century in design and decor, and unlike most of his peers, Miller mixes the two.
The chair display is remarkable on several levels, so I'm going to zero in on that. Chairs provide a wonderful vocabulary for making aesthetic comparisons, because on some level, they're all alike. Miller's selections reveal that he's a connoisseur of the chair, with many on display being among the finest of their type. On the tallest of the three stages, placed farthest from the viewer, Miller lined up chairs that rely on emphatic frames for their visual interest. On the second-tallest platform, he lined up chairs in which the upholstered forms are the key visual device. Finally, on the lowest stage, closest to the viewer, are chairs that sport sculptural forms.
In this economical way, using fewer than twenty chairs, Miller lays out three separate design narratives complete with historic content and its inherent linear march of styles. There's no need for any thematic organization, seen elsewhere at the DAM, because the three parallel story lines and the regular stylistic shifts add all the visual variety anyone could want.
Miller proves that it is possible to quietly and unobtrusively insert a good deal of intellectual content without forcing viewers to suffer through the distracting educational gimmicks included in many DAM displays, such as LCD screens and interactive components. And his high-minded ideas do not get in the way of viewers who are unable to discern them, as was proven by an enthusiastic group of gesticulating grade-schoolers who came through the gallery while I was there and obviously loved the chairs.
I know that making the lobby of the Hamilton look better is way down on the DAM's list of pressing concerns, what with layoffs looming, but I do believe that visitors need to be awed when they walk in the door -- and they aren't. If they were, they'd tell all their friends about it, and more people would come to check it out. And this is such a simple fix, since the museum's staff need go no further than the DAM's storage vaults to find everything necessary to outfit the lobby. Let's just hope they ask for Miller's opinion for a change.