Iis it furniture or works of art? Chris Schanck we ask a lot, and the answer is a bit of both. “In my heart, I’m an artist — designing furniture, that’s how I found my calling,” he says.
Schanck, 47, toils in the underworld where art and design converge, her work assembled from found materials and covered in shimmering resin and foil. A Dallas native now living in Detroit, Schanck studied painting and sculpture in the 1990s at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which he considers a sanctuary for art in the midst of a family life troubled by dependency and instability. Now an international star in the world of contemporary design, the artist’s furniture is highly sought after, oscillating between $30,000 and $150,000.
Designer William Sofield furnished Tom Ford’s flagship on Madison Avenue with a chair and console, and architect Peter Marine commissioned Schanck to create benches for a dozen Dior boutiques. Bottega Veneta has installed several of Schanck’s pieces in a pop-up store in Detroit, and his works are held in private and public collections across the country, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Dallas Museum of Art.
The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York has organized a retrospective of his work, “Chris Schanck: Off-World” (until January 8, 2023), supported by Friedman Benda, the elite New York gallery which also represents the work of Schanck. work in the United States. “Chris is one of the most exciting artists working in contemporary furniture today,” says the exhibition’s guest curator, Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, which owns two of Schanck’s works. “As an artist he takes a conceptually rich approach to his work, and as a designer he pushes the expectations of what furniture can be.”
Twenty-four of his elaborately carved and colored furniture forms are featured, including Mom, a chandelier made in collaboration with his mother, with whom he once had a strained relationship. “I wanted to make peace with her, reconnect somehow,” Schanck says. Her mother carved the chandelier from twigs and sticks collected from waste lots and the beach near her Florida home; Schanck arranged it with a steel pipe frame, applied color through layers of tinted resin, and made it into a task lamp.
shivering cabinet – a large dresser that appears to be devoured by pink moss – has drawers and cabinets made of OSB (oriented strand board), an inexpensive plywood-like material ubiquitous in poorer areas of Detroit, and often used to pick up foreclosed people or abandoned buildings, especially in the immigrant neighborhood of Banglatown where Schanck lived and worked for a decade.
alley vanity was inspired by the late 19th century Hammered Vanity from the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art and made his DMA debut in “Curbed Vanity” in 2021, his first solo exhibition at the museum. Made from objects found in his Detroit neighborhood, the vanity is covered in resin and aluminum foil, a reference to the Dallas-area aluminum factory where Schanck’s father worked. Chronically unemployed, her father moved the family a dozen times before landing a factory job, Schanck says. He and his brother also worked there for a while.
“Aluminum foil is more than just a material, in that it represents our family’s first taste of stability,” he says. The retrospective also includes the artist’s latest figurative creations, including Eye of the Little God, a bas-relief mirror inspired by the poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath. Schanck came across the poem – a meditation on aging and the end of life – while researching the history of mirrors for the alley vanity room.
Art, design and avant-garde
HThese works may not be conventional, but Schanck can design and build furniture with the best of them – he has an MFA in design from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which produced the legends Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Florence Knoll. He previously trained at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he earned a BFA in sculpture – an opportunity he almost scuttled while still at Booker T, when a recruiter told him offered a full scholarship which he initially refused.
“I was dealing with extreme addictions and depression, flirting with suicide,” Schanck says. One day he put a gun to his head, not knowing if it was loaded or not. “What crossed my mind at that point was, ‘Well, you can just quit, or you can give it your all and see what happens,'” he says. He put the gun down. “I dug up the recruiter’s card – the college deadline had already passed – and begged him to give me another chance.” He did, with a full drive to college.
Later at Cranbrook, Schanck thrived on the school’s emphasis on studio work and experimentation, where he was introduced to the institution’s heritage of radical and avant-garde furniture design. – guardian. Rigorous group critiques taught her to think critically about her own work, and the inherent limitations of furniture design were liberating. “It gave me the freedom to dig as deep as I wanted into that space and explore it,” he says.
After Cranbrook, Schanck toyed with the idea of becoming an industrial designer “who did useful things… But my natural instinct kicked in and the sculptor in me came back.” However, he never strayed from the practical, so making intricate sculptures that are also furniture has its advantages.
“It’s familiar and people can identify with the work, which isn’t always the case with art,” he says. “I can take someone to Mom’s chandelier and say, ‘What are we looking at? Are we looking at a sofa? Are we looking at a mirror? We’re obviously looking at a light, and everyone’s on the same page, no matter how weird it is or what I’m intending with the narrative. It is an entry point that can facilitate people’s access.
An artistic boon to Detroit
VShris Schanck works out of a studio in a converted 1920s machine shop in Banglatown, employing artists, students and artisans from the neighborhood, which is mostly populated by immigrants. His art is expensive – prices reflect high production costs and a living wage paid for seven people, including himself – so he looks for ways to create other affordable artwork. He’s in the early stages of a collaboration with friend, Detroit artist Wesley Taylor, which could involve limited-edition clothing and music, which they’ll debut at a low-key underground show in New York that will circumvents the commercial art world. More recently, he joined the prestigious David Gill Gallery in London – which represents the Campana brothers, the late Dame Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind – and is feverishly working on pieces for a solo exhibition in autumn 2023.
The importance of making a big mark in the rarefied world of art and design is not lost on Schanck, who started with all the chips stacked against him. “I’m not the kind of person who’s supposed to be successful in this world,” he says. “Art is like love, it’s a total act of faith. It can crumble under your feet, or it can support you.
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