The setting of Janez Suhadolc's exhibits at the Koroška Gallery of Fine Arts in Slovenj Gradec is extraordinary. Not only because it includes 179 exhibits (the prevailing exhibits being chairs, of course (87), and there are also some other works of art from his designing realization family: tables, footstools, stands, etc., as well as original drawings-designs), but also because of the interesting dialogue between his works and the paintings belonging to the Permanent collection housed by the Gallery, i.e. works by Bogdan Borčić - their dialogue is especially intense since Borčić, especially for this installation, included some of his works also dealing with chairs, Daniel Buren, Viktor Vasarely, Anna Trojanovska, Gabriel Belgeone, Pino Poggi, Alija Hafizović, Bertil Wahlberg, Heino Partanen, Ona B., Kiar Meško, Lojze Logar, Mićo Popović, Virgilij Nevjestić, Zvonko Lončarić, Vlado Jakelić, Nikola Koydl, Marko Šušteršič, Jože Tisnikar, Valentin Oman, Ivo Šubic, Harald Draušbaher, Gustav Gnamuš, Sašo Vrabič, Peter Hergold, Vida Slivniker, Klavdij Tutta, Zdenko Huzjan, Luka Popič, Darko Lesjak, Borut Popenko, Štefan Marflak, Erika Marija Bajuk, Anton Repnik, Karel Pečko, Avgust Lavrenčič in Štefan Planinc. The purpose of the setting is not to simply place Suhadolc's chairs into a room and leave the Permanent collection authors' paintings on the walls. The exhibition was set up by Suhadolc himself to reflect a special relationship between his own works and the works of other authors. He uses the so-called quotations by other authors. He places his works and drawings within a certain distance to the works of other authors in such a way that the visitor is forced to look at them differently than he is used to. (Namely, many a time the visitor embraces the whole image only superficially, with almost no interest in the details, the painting becomes more of an "equipment" which truncates whole experience.) This time it is different. The viewer is forced to look for details and structures, both of the paintings as well as Suhadolc's exhibits. For us at the gallery, this kind of setting is thus even more unusual and very special since we are more or less used to setting up exhibits "as they are". Namely, we prefer for each author and his work to be on a separate wall, and to have as little dialogue with other works as possible, except when the concept of an exhibition involves a connection of different authors. In this case we have an installation that deviates from our established ways. However, I have to admit that the first impression, although showing groups of exhibits closely together and is a little deconcentrating, makes us feel like a part of the setting itself. We discover details: shapes, structures, moves, color and its meanings, drawing, architecture, etc. Suhadolc's exhibits suddenly lose their functional meaning and can be as readable as paintings. And, in contrast, the paintings become more physical, of more dimensions. A paradigm for reflection. A new and a truly fulfilling experience. The chairs suddenly cannot be sat on anymore (not only due to the setting) and we see them as sculptures, architecture, paintings, etc. However, with this kind of setting the author did not want to exploit the other authors and their works to set up his own exhibit. He merely summed up their creation's quotations and thus brought attention to their uniqueness and value. He directed our attention with the way he read them, the same way as the known French painter Daniel Buren - also quoted by Suhadolc - did in 1975 when he displayed one of his exhibits in an installation in Slovenj Gradec (the famous blue-and-white flag) together with the state flags in front of the Gallery. Suhadolc did it in a similar manner, in order to adjust his paintings to the nature of the setting. Effective.
Janez Suhadolc: Chair Lajt, marabela - a type of plum wood (it is possible to hold the chair on a fingertip, but the chair is strong enough to hold the weight of an adult person)
JANEZ SUHADOLC: CHAIRS
'It makes me feel good to be able to take a rejected piece of material and create a masterpiece with it, and one that is worth something. To me it seems as if a phoenix would rise out of the ashes.'
Janez Suhadolc, architect and graphic designer, Full Professor of freehand drawing at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Ljubljana, was born in 1942 in Ljubljana. He was not the only one in the Suhadolc family to have inherited the creative zeal from their father Anton Suhadolc, construction engineer and Jože Plečnik's co-worker. Janez' older brother Matija Suhadolc also devoted his life to architecture, while woodcraft is present in the art of both the youngest as well as the oldest brother Anton Suhadolc, a professor of mathematics and a proud owner of an extensive art collection of wooden balls made from different kinds of wood.
Wood, the organic material and one of the most important building materials since the beginning of civilization, has been an important aspect of Janez Suhadolc's artistic creativity for almost two decades. Besides chairs, he also designs and manufactures all other kinds of furniture.
If the very beginnings of his creativity were merely a curious experiment in design as well as the realization of one's own ideas, today Janez Suhadolc's chairs hold an important place in the indispensable part of furniture. They are named after the person who ordered them or even after its form or function and they form a colorful palette of unique shapes and testify to the mastery in using various kinds of wood which offers a naturally variegated approach to art requiring a lot of respect when treating it. Walnut, cherry, plum, pear, larch or even other, less known kinds of wood, like the Californian sequoia, are used to manufacture chairs, benches and tables which first draw attention with their shapes and only later encourage us to think of their practical value. Spoiled from the cozy upholstered furniture, we gaze at the hardiness and inexorability of the flat wooden seats, which also appear in the combination with glass or rock, or rarely with some added upholstery.
This fails to remind us of the development of the chair which certainly played a more or less similar functional role in different cultural traditions, being made of different materials and additions. Egyptian hieroglyphs tell us about the early use of the chair, meant for those placed higher on the social scale or only as the throne of the pharaoh, the chief, which is still true today in the majority of African tribes. In contrast to the Western world where the heirs to the throne are crowned on monumental thrones, decorated with priceless materials, the thrones there are basically modest, rather small and imaginatively carved to replace the valuable decoration. Ancient Greeks called the throne 'the chair of God' and thus attributed value to it which held on to it for many periods to come. In the Middle Ages, the common mortals had to content themselves with chairs or benches made of rock, while the more comfortable chairs were meant only for the highest social classes. The Renaissance period was similar (the so-called Savonarola's Chair) as well as baroque, which triggered the practice of chairs with crossed 'legs' which were known as the authoritative chairs in the earlier Middle Ages (king Dagobert's bronze throne). It was only with the rise of the middle classes in the 18th century that the chair with fairly comfortable seating became attainable to the lower classes. Consequently, the golden age of the chair began as artists and especially architects (Gerrit T. Rietveld, L. Mies Van der Rohe, Le Corcusier, A. Aalto, etc.) became involved in the manufacturing of this indispensable piece of furniture, but mostly remained on the level of functional value of the chair and see it as a goal of artistic endeavor or designer's exploration. As merely an artistic exhibit the chair can be found in Modernism as the chair-work of art (A. Tapies) or chair-installation (G. Uecker).
Janez Suhadolc also plays with the realization of his own ideas in a similar way and in the beginning many had accused him of designing heavy and massive chairs. This led to the creation of the chair which is most often manufactured in short series and which allows its name, Lajt, coming from the phonetically written English word 'light', to speak for its lightness and shape, namely while it is possible to lift it with the tip of one's little finger, it can carry the weight of an adult person. This basic form was followed by several different variants of Lajt chairs (the Lajt bar stool, Lajt armchair, Lajt footstool) and even a Lajt table.
The wider public remembers the chairs Suhadolc manufactured especially for Pope John Paul II for the two occasions of his visits to Slovenia in 1996 and 1999, and ever since the author has been known as the 'pope's carpenter'.
Of all types of wood there are to choose from, the ones that Janez Suhadolc appreciates most are walnut, cherry and maple. He chooses 3rd category wood for his works, because it contributes to the whole image of a certain exhibit. Uneven annual rings, turns in the growth and knots create an uneven tonality and many times mosaic-like images of the uniform surfaces our eyes are normally used to.
The exhibition at the Koroška Gallery of Fine Arts includes and presents more Suhadolc's exhibits than ever before, which stands for a kind of retrospective of the rich collection with original, unique and peculiar solutions.