interior image showing red chairs with human forms in a wood paneled room

Salon 94 Recreates Kate Millett’s 1967 Fantasy Furniture Exhibition

Prior to releasing her seminal text Sexual Politics in 1970, artist and activist Kate Millett explored the relationship between power and gender through furniture.

In 1970, the artist and activist Kate Millett published Sexual Politics, a foundational text of second-wave feminism that, through political analysis and literary criticism, attempted to unwind the tangle of pleasure and patriarchy. Millett would go on to be a central figure in the fight for queer rights and mental health reform, eventually establishing the beloved Women’s Art Colony and Tree Farm in LaGrange, New York with her partner Sophie Keir in 1978. While Sexual Politics was her first book and the work that launched her into a mainstream celebrity, it was not Millett’s first artistic attempt to undermine power structures. As a vibrant and deeply necessary show at New York’s Salon 94 demonstrates: She began with furniture.

The questions Millett brings up about objects within domestic space and how they are perceived as signifiers of gender roles within the home will forever be important.

Trang Tran, director of Salon 94 Design
installation image showing red chairs with feet in a wood paneled interior

Millett’s first solo show in New York was held at the West Village’s legendary Judson Gallery in 1967. While originally titled Furniture Suite, she later described the show as Fantasy Furniture, earning the respect and encouragement of Fluxus figures like Yoko Ono and, eventually, entries in the essential Fluxus Codex (1998). This winter directors of Salon 94 Design, Trang Tran and Zoe Fisher, have recreated the show at Salon 94 as Fantasy Furniture, 1967, on view through March 2022. “The questions Millett brings up about objects within domestic space and how they are perceived as signifiers of gender roles within the home,” says Tran, “will forever be important, and relevant.”

Millett’s work spins new meaning from ancient forms. Some of her stools feature Wicked Witch-style striped legs stuck between an aubergine cushion and a pair of old shoes. Others are in service to unplayable pianos. Still more blended irreparably with legs and arms generously carved into dark, luminous wood. Like the best of Fluxus, they balance concept and commerce (they appeared, with listed prices, in Life as well as the New York Times’ “food fashions family furnishings” section) with a wit that glints of rage.

interior image showing red chairs with human forms in a wood paneled room

Other pieces just fume. Love Seat (1965) almost gives lie to its name: Millett’s forms oppose each other on found chairs, chests stuck out like stone tablets the other will never see, carved toes curling in what might be heartbreak. But some jest. Bachelor’s Apartment (1967) is a valet on four legs with a toilet and faucet in the rear. Blue-Eyed Marble Box (1965) cabinet offers a pair of hollow phallus-like drawers which, when thrust into their holes, cause the user to literally lose their marbles. Most are upholstered in blue and white striped mattress ticking. Before tragically passing away due to COVID-19 complications last year, 30-year-old artist and up-and-coming curator Jenni Crain wrote in her master’s thesis on Millett, which Salon 94 has reproduced in a reader accompanying the show: “This material reference is a direct association with the domestic realm, while its striped pattern reads as pinstripes, a metaphorical allusion to imprisonment in such environments.”

The tony walls of Salon 94 are wrung with a selection of gestural, rather sexy works of ink on paper, which Millett began after completing her third book, Flying (1974). These, too, embody a revolution of and for the body. As Millet writes in the book: “What I want is outrageous: all the possible pleasures of freedom. I want to go beyond the old system of possession, the notion of person as a thing owned. Like so many of us now, I’m experimenting with life, trying to get it right, to do it better, aware how often we’re merely rationalizing—but still trying to create a new kind of social existence.” Her furnishings aren’t meant as chairs to pull up to patriarchy’s tables, but as fittings for rooms of her own.

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