Spare a thought for the unsuspecting furniture connoisseur who wanders into Michael Samuels’s show, only to find lovely modernist pieces – or ‘mid-century modern’, to use the jargon – which have been sawn up and dismantled, then reassembled to form weird, mutated, hybrid configurations. There are intricately angular wall-pieces, mobiles suspended from the ceiling and teetering, skeletal towers. All are built, Frankenstein-like, by combining different sections of furniture and other objects: curved bits of moulding, wooden frames and struts, concrete blocks, colourful Scandinavian vases attached upside-down so they resemble nothing so much as bright, dangling udders. Most provocative of all are two large, flat partitions, their rectilinear lattices resembling some sort of crazy circuit diagram, built entirely by slicing up a coveted Ercol-brand table.
The effect is strange and monstrous, yet at the same time rather elegant. The composite structures feel austere and refined, somehow secretive in the way their components fit together. Metal clamps and yellow plastic ties are often used – yet not so much to hold elements in place as for decorative or aesthetic reasons. It’s like an inversion of the typical modernist tenet that the form of an object should follow its function. In practical terms, these objects are functionless – so what form should they take? Untethered from tradition, they’re free instead to drift abstractly into fantasy, into a kind of daydream realm.
On one end of the gallery there’s a retro sofa you can sit on, and a coffee table stacked with books about art and design; while on a side table and the wall behind are small chunks of concrete and Formica, segments of wooden frames – elements that have been deconstructed but not yet re-imagined or recombined. It’s like a kind of thinking space, or meditation zone for slipping into Samuels’s dreamily protean worlds of interiors.