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Sunday, May 19, 2024

A CHAIR AND YOU. Thierry Barbier-Mueller Collection in GRASSI Museum of Applied Arts Leipzig | 08.05.–06.10.2024

Editors’ Choice

With A Chair and You, the GRASSI Museum of Applied Arts is showing from 8 May 2024 one of the world’s most important private collections of chairs by over 100 artists, designers and architects from the 1960s to the present day. This extraordinary show is one of the highlights of 2024, year in which the museum celebrates its 150th anniversary. Since the late 1990s, Geneva-based entrepreneur and collector Thierry Barbier-Mueller brought together a large number of innovative and unusual chairs with a sculptural character that goes far beyond the usual typology. The presentation of around 150 chairs was entrusted to the renowned American artist, theatre director and designer Robert Wilson. A Chair and You offers the visitor an “opera” in four acts and just as many stages – with a scenography in which the history of art and design from the 1960s to the present day is told through Thierry Barbier-Mueller’s unique collection.

Image above: Ingo Maurer, Gio Ponti in the Sky with Diamonds, 2004, wood, crystals, LED; unique piece; Foto: © Patrick Goetelen; Thierry Barbier-Mueller Sammlung

An “opera” in four acts: Presentation of the spaces

The space remains closed. A cube whose interior is lined with mirrors serves as a show case for the exhibits. Circular openings reveal the sculptural and metallic qualities of the chairs, which virtually melt into this reflective environment. The changing light intensifies the kaleidoscopic effect.

DEEDS.NEWS - GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig - A CHAIR AND YOU - View of the exhibition Mudac, Lausanne - copyright Lucie Jansch - 3
Installationsansichten: mudac, Lausanne, 2022/23; Fotos: © Lucie Jansch 

Through a low, backlit door, dazzled visitors enter a dark and hushed room. As if floating in darkness, the chairs are revealed in turn by changing lights that give them a star-like aura. Like in a planetarium, spotlights direct our gaze to the exhibits, which are among the most striking chairs in the collection.

Calm, minimalism and geometry characterise the Medium Space. Straight, clean lines divide this monochrome landscape. Inspired by the formal language of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (1929), the layout is structured by semi-transparent walls made of tulle. The open, soothing space is in dialogue with chairs that have strong architectural features. The soft and diffuse light contrasts with a metallic sound environment.

DEEDS.NEWS - GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig -A CHAIR AND YOU - View of the exhibition Mudac, Lausanne - copyright Lucie Jansch - 2
Installationsansichten: mudac, Lausanne, 2022/23; Fotos: © Lucie Jansch 

Islands made up of a dense network of some of the most colourful and eclectic chairs in the collection give visitors the illusion of getting lost in a forest, as if from a fantasy world. Bright colours, surprising materials, and curves predominate in this light-flooded space. The chairs have been intuitively arranged according to affinities and grouped around themes such as the animalistic, the sculptural, a pop factor, humour, or technical sophistication

DEEDS.NEWS - GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig - A CHAIR AND YOU - View of the exhibition Mudac, Lausanne - copyright Lucie Jansch
Installationsansichten: mudac, Lausanne, 2022/23; Fotos: © Lucie Jansch 

The Collection of Thierry Barbier-Mueller
The chair embodies an exciting combination between aesthetics and use, a form of musicality whose range of possibilities is infinite. In the 1990s, Thierry Barbier-Mueller (1960–2023) became fascinated by the creativity, freshness and tremendous explosion of spontaneity of designers such as Ron Arad and Tom Dixon, especially in this field. His acquisitions grew spontaneously through new discoveries and encounters, resulting in a collection of over 650 chairs dating from the 1960s to the present day. Comprising about two-thirds unique pieces, prototypes, or works from limited editions, the collection reflects an interest in atypical objects, off the beaten track of industrial design. Far from wanting to put together an exhaustive and scientific corpus on the contemporary history of the chair, Barbier-Mueller was interested in everything that stood out as unique and innovative in the field. It was above all the object itself that captivated him. Its uniqueness, its plasticity, the humour it evokes, or its materiality. This collection brings together the work of internationally renowned creatives and more confidential positions, of various nationalities. It includes work by designers such as Ron Arad, Gaetano Pesce, Ettore Sottsass, Martino Gamper and Maarten Baas as well as visual artists such as Donald Judd, Niki de Saint Phalle, Isamu Noguchi, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Wilson and Franz West.

A book documenting the entire collection was published in 2022. It will be available in the museum bookshop: The Spirit of Chairs. The Chair Collection of Thierry Barbier-Mueller, October 2022, Lars Mueller Publishers GmbH, 384 pages, 927 illustrations

Quotes from Thierry Barbier-Mueller about the chairs

“A chair is a chair for one and all! Revolutionary, wacky, innovative, humorous, ironic, joyous, elegant, boring, surprising, spare, mysterious, makeshift, cheeky, brutal, sophisticated, practical, impractical, or straight-out unusable, the character of each piece is understandable to everyone.” The Spirit of Chairs

DEEDS.NEWS - GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig - A CHAIR AND YOU - Stefan-Wewerka-Klassenraumstuhl © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024, Patrick Goetelen
Stefan Wewerka – Klassenraumstuhl – 1971-scaled © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024, Patrick Goetelen

Robert Wilson–Biography

Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson is among the world’s foremost theatre and visual artists. His works for the stage unconventionally integrate a wide variety of artistic media, including dance, movement, lighting, sculpture, music and text. His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics world wide. After being educated at the University of Texas and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Wilson founded the New York-based performance collective The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds in the mid-1960s, and developed his first signature works, including Deafman Glance (1970) and A Letter for Queen Victoria (1974-1975). With Philip Glass he wrote the seminal opera Einstein on the Beach(1976). Wilson’s artistic collaborations include many writers and musicians such as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Lou Reed, Jessye Norman and Anna Calvi. He has also left his imprint on masterworks such as Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, Brecht/Weill’s Three penny Opera, Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande, Goethe’s Faust, Homer’s Odyssey, Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s La Traviata and Sophocles’ Oedipus. Wilson’s drawings, paintings and sculptures have been presented around the world in hundreds of solo and group exhibitions, and his works are held in private collections and museums throughout the world. Wilson has been honoured with numerous awards for excellence, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, two Premio Ubu awards, the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale, and an Olivier Award. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the German Academy of the Arts, and holds eight Honorary Doctorate degrees. France pronounced him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2003) and Officer of the Legion of Honour (2014); Germany awarded him the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit(2014).He was honored in October of 2023 in Tokyo with the Praemium imperiale. Wilson is the founder and Artistic Director of The Watermill Center, a laboratory for the Arts in Water Mill, New York.

A CHAIR AND YOU – a sound experience

“I work with all elements at the same time. From the beginning, I think about light. I also think about the soundscape. What do I hear? What’s the sound like in the first room, how is it in the second, how is it in the third? What’s the last thing that I hear? On Broadway, you always have to ‘start strong and end big.’ In theatre, the last thing you hear or see is the most important. Sometimes, if you do something at the very end that seems right, the audience might forgive you for what you’ve been doing all evening!”

DEEDS.NEWS - GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig - A CHAIR AND YOU - View of the exhibition Mudac, Lausanne - copyright Lucie Jansch - 4
Installationsansichten: mudac, Lausanne, 2022/23; Fotos: © Lucie Jansch 


“Regarding the selection of objects for A CHAIR AND YOU, I’m especially interested in how the chairs are placed. (…) Each group helps me see the other, simply because of the way they are organised. This is what is exciting about designing an exhibition. (…) I often work with counterpoint, which allows you to look at one thing against another.”


Opening of the exhibition:

Tuesday, 7. May 2024 at 7 pm, in the presence of Robert Wilson

Exhibition period:

Wednesday, 8. May until Sunday 6. October 2024

Opening hours:

Tue, Thu – Sun, public holidays: 10 am – 6 pm
Wed: noon – 8 pm


GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst
Johannisplatz 5–11
04103 Leipzig


From 2024: Free admission to the permanent exhibitions

For all Special exhibitions:

Adults 8,00 €
Reduced 5,50 €
Children up to and including 18 years free admission

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