A version of this article originally appeared
in Newcity Art on November 23, 2009.
With Konstantin Grcic, it's all about probjects. That is, the project-based design of an object. In the first major American exhibition of Grcic's work, the Art Institute brings together a collection of the designer's chairs, pens, shelving, tables, silverware, serving ware, stools and fixtures. The collection illustrates the energetic output of the German designer, who reinvents his design approach for each project/object (or probject).
Grcic started out as a cabinetmaker. But his curiosity outgrew the narrow design questions posed by cabinets and perhaps it was because he built so many empty ones that Grcic began dreaming up new things to fill them with. He writes, "We can never speak about objects without imagining people using them." And how else do you use a cabinet except to fill it with things?
If a gallery is a cabinet, then the scope of design questions that Grcic has answered since moving beyond the design of the cabinet itself is stunning. He designs objects like chairs with the same fluidity as a poet writing in a particular form; instead of fourteen lines or four legs with a back and an elevated area to perch a human behind, a chair, to Grcic, presents a set of creative constraints based on a certain way of acting out an activity: sitting. The materials are as mutable as the language and using different plastics or combinations (wood and plastic, natural or artificial color) results in a chair that can turn or be carried from place to place with the ease of a sonnet. The influences on Grcic's designs vary widely on a per probject basis. Influences include the abstract relationship between an object and the trade skills needed to produce it, dinner-table phrases and boutique Italian kitchen accessory manufacturers, curves from a forty-year-old Lamborghini, color and planar geometry, plastic, footballs and, of course, design-history titans like Breuer, Thonet and Bauhaus. Lending the out-of-context smell of an autoshop to the gallery is an enclosure of tires that houses an area with a few of Grcic's chairs for weary design enthusiasts to sit on, fidget in, or simply admire.