The Arts Club of Chicago is filled with scrap. The scrap takes the form of furniture and everyday objects—from chairs to tables to shelves. Their decadence is what makes them particularly interesting. The sculptures deliberately hover between aesthetics and functionality, revealing Jessi Reaves’ astounding sensibility in her approach to art and design.
“A Sample of the Truth” presents an elaborately embellished chair made out of wood, metal, cord, sawdust, wood glue, paper and enamel paint. “Changing Room Cabinet” is a metal box where wood, plexi, paint, cedar, automotive steel, vinyl and sawdust coexist. Similarly but not quite, “Dinner every night (Cardin Knockoff cabinet #1)”—wood, metal, masonite, sawdust, wood glue, urethane and acrylic paint, slipless clay, rhinestone, acrylic, hardware, steel, aluminum—invites the viewer to peek inside where water bottles of all shapes and sizes are carefully organized: some are glass, others aluminum, some feature Disney princesses. Elsewhere, four pumps casually left on the ground become “Fashion Collaboration,” a piece brought to life by shoes, sawdust and wood glue.
Occupying two galleries (technically three if you count the room that leads up to Mies van der Rohe’s “floating” staircase), “All possessive lusts dispelled” is masterfully curated around two monumental centerpieces. Walking in, the viewer is invited to take a seat. Noted on the exhibition guide as “Modified Exhibition Seating,” the piece includes “Booth I & I (with bookcase inset)” and “Booth III & IV,” both made out of fabric, foam, wood and hardware. Giving a domestic element to the gallery space—crisp white walls that come in juxtaposition to the works’ bright yellows, different shades of blues and elegant grays—Reaves’ furniture is playfully thought-provoking. “I don’t want someone to have to tell you to sit,” she says. “It’s more about the encounter with the thing—wondering if you can sit. There’s a certain person who’s willing to test that boundary.”
More than a chance to catch your breath (between the apparent and the implied, Reaves’ works are extremely detailed so one needs a while to take them all in), the booths provide a different perspective of the exhibition that adds to the experience: when sitting down one feels more immersed into the artist’s world, more intrigued and more present.
As one enters the adjacent gallery, dead center stands “Personal Heat.” Not your ordinary credenza, the work gives pop punk vibes featuring animal stripes in red, orange and hot pink tones that warm up the space—an unexpected splash of color. Upon a closer look, one notices a remote control. “Grey Ladder Back to Where You Were,” a seven-minute digital video following a young girl amid fragmented scenes of house demolition and renovation, plays on a loop. It’s unclear if the best way to watch it is through the credenza open shelves or sitting on “Silver Pitfall Ottoman Chunk #3,” a padded upholstered bench made out of wood, polyurethane foam, fabric and acrylic. Either one works.
From Portland, Oregon, Reaves moved to New York in 2009 to pursue a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design—she started out with furniture design and then pivoted into painting. But it was when she got a part-time job as an upholsterer and found herself in a studio full of leftover bits and pieces that she started playing with the idea of reimagined and reconstructed furniture. Her practice is a direct influence of that time. Dismantling and reassembling to the point of breathing new life into them, Reaves is exploring what furniture was, is and what it could be. The line between the familiar and the unfamiliar blurs. Drawn to the whimsical, the absurd and, at times, the uncomfortable—like when she attaches a dildo-like phallic form on the side of a piece of furniture (“Personal Heat”)—she’s unafraid to test the boundaries of the surreal. It is there that found objects, discarded items from her personal life and worn-out furniture take a new meaning.
“Encountering the work of Jessi Reaves is like approaching an old friend on the street and noticing they’ve gotten a questionable new haircut,” writes executive director and chief curator of The Arts Club of Chicago, Janine Mileaf. “You’re not sure it is flattering, but you’re strangely drawn to it and you get the sense that their active private life has somehow inspired the new look.” Which is exactly why “All possessive lusts dispelled” is worth taking a closer look at.
Jessi Reaves’ “All possessive lusts dispelled” is on view at the Arts Club of Chicago, 201 East Ontario, through May 20.