Visitors to the Figge Art Museum’s “Seating by Design” exhibition are greeted by an unconventional chair—beige, wooden, oblong—with a title: “For Your Eyes Only.” The piece serves as an appropriate opener to the exhibition, which features a series of chairs designed by artists associated with the 3D Design Program in the School of Art and Art History.
Created by the late University of Iowa Professor of Design Hu Hung-Shu, the piece invites visitors not to sit, but rather to experience exquisitely created works of art and design.
Professor Monica Correia of the School of Art and Art History, the curator of "Seating by Design" and one of the exhibitors, is the head of the UI's renowned 3D Design program.
"Seating by Design," an exhibition at Figge Art Museum in Davenport, was curated by Professor Monica Correia, head of the UI's 3D Design Program.
Featuring works by 24 alumni of the 3D Design Program (including herself) and Hu Hung-shu, the former head of Iowa's design program, the show runs until January 17.
"I got the idea for the exhibition when I realized that, after 18 years of teaching, I had a substantial group of former students with beautiful work to showcase alongside my own," Correia said. "Also, our program received a rare honor for a design program, an invitation to exhibit work at the world's most prestigious international design event, the Salone del Mobile.Milano in Milan, Italy. We couldn't go because of the pandemic, so I decided to celebrate the accomplishment with this exhibit."
Accordingly, the exhibition is a powerful demonstration of the UI's reputation for outstanding artistry—all of the designers exhibiting their work in the show are students, faculty, and/or alumni of the UI 3D Design program.
The exhibition opened at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport on September 26, and runs until January 17, 2021. Alongside the work of Correia and her former students are three pieces—“For Your Eyes Only” and two others— designed by Hu.
Hu Hung-shu was the previous head of the UI's design program, and was Correia's teacher and mentor when she earned her MFA from Iowa in 2000. When he retired in 2003, he encouraged Correia to apply for his position.
"I have so much respect for Professor Hu as my mentor and as an artist," Correia said, "and I never had a chance to exhibit my work next to his before he died in 2015. I'm honored that it's now happening, and by including my own students, I feel like a connector between what was before and what is now.”
Justin Bailey, who earned his MA and MFA degrees from the School of Art and Art History and now works as an assistant professor at Indiana University, said the exhibit shows the evolution of the program by showing work from the professor who started it to new alumni. Bailey has three pieces featured in “Seating By Design,” including one he completed while part of the 3D Design program called “Airliner Chair,” inspired by the popular restaurant and bar of the same name in downtown Iowa City.
“I was really excited for the opportunity to show work alongside my mentor,” Bailey said of working with Correia. “I think for anybody who works closely with a mentor or professor, that’s a beautiful thing to be able to do.”
The UI 3D Design program is different from most in the United States because it is housed in the university’s School of Art and Art History, and not a stand-alone design program.
“We approach the design of objects and furniture a lot more freely than a design program would,” Correia said. “Maybe because we are more playful, and we are not necessarily looking at making something that will be mass-produced or manufactured. We allow people to think of a one-of-a-kind piece.”
Like the program, Bailey said “Seating by Design” is unique in and of itself because when people think of going to a museum they probably don’t see design as much as they do conventional art.
“A chair really turns into a canon of an object,” Bailey said. “I think it’s one of the most common pieces of furniture that we have, so it’s a really interesting cross-section of design and art that’s kind of interesting to see in a museum.”
Todd Hahn (BFA '16) is showing a chair in the exhibit, titled the “Hahn Chair,” that he designed while in the 3D Design program in 2015. He said the program was where his designs grew to become real life, and more than just models or renders. Now he's getting to see how many of his fellow alumni have had the same experience working with Correia—and by extension with Hu.
“It’s really neat to see all of our work together,” Hahn said. “Obviously you get to hear about past students or mentors and things like that, but to get to see our work sitting side by side, it really shows what the program is doing at the university. It's incredible to see the variations of personality and conceptual ideas that Monica brings to the table.”