Books

The Designs of Allan Wexler, a “Radical Deconstructor of Habitation”

A new book celebrates the artist’s unique vision, featuring more than 200 projects he has conceived since the 1980s.

Allan Wexler, “Interchange chair” (2008), from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Allan Wexler; image courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York)

How do the spaces we inhabit shape our daily rituals, and how does our behavior, in turn, help to inform the architecture of these spaces? These are the questions with which artist Allan Wexler has primarily grappled for the last few decades, endlessly creating projects that examine and restructure functional objects as well as routines that we may accept without question. Celebrating his individual vision is a new monograph recently put out by Lar Müllers Publishers, the first that takes us deep inside his constantly searching mind.

Allan Wexler, “Crate House” (1991), from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Ben Burnhart)

Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design, edited by Ashley Simone, features more than 200 projects Wexler has conceived since the ’80s, from sketches and drawings to fully realized sculptures and installations. Although a trained architect, he has been less concerned with designing entire buildings than with tinkering with their smaller components, namely their fixtures and furnishings, like tables and chairs.

As writer Michele Calzavara, who describes Wexler as “a radical deconstructor of habitation,” writes in an essay in the book, “Inhabiting, for Wexler, is explored via the interrogation of daily practices and rituals, and via the invention of devices that investigate and exhibit the body in space.”

Projects that exemplify this include his studies of chairs, such as “One Equals Two” (2007), for which he built alternative iterations of IKEA Stefan chairs, turning a seat representative of the simple and utilitarian into the foundation for something complex and experimental. His creations also often highlight the framing of social interaction, from “Tables of Content” (2000) — a series of picnic tables installed in a Santa Monica park, with benches reconfigured to disrupt the centuries-old gathering — to “Two Too Large Tables,” his 2006 public art commission at Hudson River Park, where passersby can stop and slide themselves into awkward seated sections sliced into a large table and then converse from determined distances. In “One Table Worn by Four People,” on the other hand, communication can only occur when all four participants, each wearing a section of a table, come together and figure out how their segments fit.

Allan Wexler, “Expansion” (2007) from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Allan Wexler)
Allan Wexler in collaboration with Ellen Wexler, “Tables of Content” (2000) in Douglas Park, Santa Monica, CA (photo by William Short)

Wearables, another fixation of Wexler’s, are created as sculpture to improve the natural abilities of the human body, which he treats as another form of architecture. He plays with our control of smell with “Spice Box for the Havdalah Service” (2005), which attempts to turn the Jewish ritual of smelling sweet spices into a customizable experience: a mask equipped with tubes and valves allows its user to play with the flow of different fragrances according to personal preference. A more recent sculpture, “Cone of Vision” (2016), rests on the user’s shoulders and attempts to magnify and focus vision through the low-tech: two huge, absurd-looking cones made of wood. These are unwieldy, inconvenient contraptions; intensifying a person’s presence, they also speak to Wexler’s interest in how bodies consume space.

His impressively designed “Crate House” (1991) is a larger exploration of this notion and a carefully calculated response to Le Corbusier’s concept of a home as “a machine for living.” As its name suggests, Wexler packaged the objects of a home’s various spaces — a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living room — into four different crates, slim and tall like those made for paintings, which then slot neatly into one larger, eight-foot cube. Its dweller thus has to roll out a crate to use the room, so the architecture of the house depends on need and function. Envisioned as an always shifting structure, “Crate House” captures Wexler’s approach to his art in general, which is intentionally never focused but always fluid, searching to unsettle our accustomed environments.

Allan Wexler, “Spice Box for the Havdalah Service” (2005) from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Allan Wexler)

Allan Wexler, “One Table Worn by Four People” (1991) (photo by Allan Wexler, courtesy San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art)
Allan Wexler, “Cone of Vision” (2016) from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Allan Wexler)
Allan Wexler, “Hat/Roof” (1994) from Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design (photo by Allan Wexler)

Allan Wexler, “Bucket House” (1994) (photo by Allan Wexler)
Allan Wexler, “Crate House” (1991) (photo by Allan Wexler; courtesy Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, Hagen, Germany)

Allan Wexler in collaboration with Ellen Wexler, “Tables of Content” (2000) in Douglas Park, Santa Monica, CA (photo by William Short)

Allan Wexler in collaboration with Ellen Wexler, “Two Too Large Table” (2006)

Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design is available from Lar Müllers Publishers.

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