The Denver Art Museum Wants You to Sit at This Exhibition

This article is part of our Museums special section about how institutions are striving to offer their visitors more to see, do and feel.

The first thing that greets visitors at the Denver Art Museum’s new exhibition of contemporary furniture is a rather large sign announcing the show’s name. “Have a Seat: Mexican Chair Design Today,” it reads in uppercase letters rendered in an eye-popping, pink font.

Just a few steps inside the gallery, visitors arrive at a second message, this one more pragmatic, posted at eye level and meant to clear the air of any doubts.

“Seriously,” the placard reads. “have a seat.”

That is all the invitation they need to acquaint themselves with the goods in a way they are rarely permitted at serious institutions. They plop down on precious objects, put their feet up and generally make themselves at home on the stools, benches, side chairs and sofas scattered about the exhibition.

That is what the curator, Jorge Rivas Pérez, said he hoped for when assembling the show, which runs through Nov. 3. He wanted to upend the don’t-touch etiquette in practice at most art galleries and, at the same time, allow his guests to evaluate the objects on more practical terms, the way they might check out a recliner at a local department store.

The show provides “a full, sensorial, immersive space,” Rivas said, where visitors can feel the fabrics, smell the leather and wood, move things around to get a sense of their weight, and answer the ultimate question that even the prettiest chair has to face: Is it comfortable?

Designers represented in the exhibition discussed their creations, including what inspired them and the materials they used. Their remarks have been edited and condensed.

Designed by Aldo Álvarez Tostado (under the brand piedrafuego) and made with horsehair and parota wood.

I grew up in San Pancho, a small beach town that transitioned from an agriculture and livestock economy to a tourism-related one. Horses were a sign of power and masculinity, and in the past few years, I’ve tried to challenge these notions through more fluid, suggestive, even homoerotic, takes on ranchero culture and the crafts and materials surrounding it.

Bigger thinking: Ergonomics are key for a seat, and I think the Caballito stools work properly on a really basic level. But what motivated me to create these stools had to do with something different: to find a new use for a material I came across, to talk about the visual tradition of our region, and to take a personal-identity and aesthetic stance.

Designed by LANZA Atelier (Isabel Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo) and made with mahogany and maple.

Inspired by the birth of our second son, we designed a collection of four chairs of different heights in which the back rests and legs grow — symmetrically from the seat — in both directions. The concept is a “ladder” that keeps growing and that anyone can use at different moments: the ground-level chair for sitting while playing with a child on the floor; the medium-height chair to stand on and grab something from a top shelf; the tallest chair for a baby to sit at the table with everyone else; and all the in-betweens.

Bigger thinking: Our chair designs question the relationship of our bodies with everyday objects and explore the limits of what is considered “a convenient height or measurement” in order to defy the commonly accepted concept of a seat.

Designed by Fabien Cappello and made with synthetic velvet commonly used in public transportation seats (pattern by the designer).

A seat only interests me if it generates a life situation that is valuable to the sitter — a bench with a good view, a chair for eating good food or a sofa that makes possible good conversations. In this case, the seat I designed really is about people sitting together, and its defined spatial configuration makes it clearly furniture for conversations. It has been thought of as a piece to spark discussions and, hopefully, make people meet.

Bigger thinking: The butaca typology of chair first appeared in the southern Caribbean region of the Americas, blending together ceremonial, Indigenous furniture design and Spanish furniture construction techniques. For a long time it was considered an inappropriate chair for colonial society because of the very lascivious position it proposes.

Designed by Jorge Diego Etienne and made with solid pine.

The Tempo stool embodies simplicity and unpretentious aesthetics, aligning with my studio’s philosophy of creating timeless, thoughtful objects. It’s part of a bigger, pro bono collaboration with Fábrica Social Techo, a Latin American nonprofit dedicated to creating emergency housing in marginalized communities. I believe this project reflects my studio’s commitment to social responsibility and design’s potential for positive impact in Mexico.

Bigger thinking: The stool’s discreet, serene design brings tranquillity and warmth to spaces, fostering a sense of trust and inviting long-term use. I like to bring together personal experiences, like my year in Japan studying craftsmanship and design, in conjunction with my own Mexican context. This design reflects it.

Designed by Raúl Cabra (under the brand Oax-i-fornia) and made with carrizo reed.

The Tabaco stool is the result of observation, preservation and re-use. Based on the double-walled vernacular calenda baskets used to carry flowers and figures at festivals in Oaxaca, it’s simply turned around and scaled up to create a new object, in this case a seat. We always start from something existing, so that artisans have a strong sense of ownership, but ask new questions of form and material to challenge their (and our) knowledge and creativity.

Bigger thinking: What is remarkable about the piece is its purity. Only carrizo reed is used, no metal structure supports it, and no metal or wooden forms are used to weave it. It’s just the strength and flexibility of the material and the dexterity of the artisan that provides stability and comfort.

Designed by Cecilia León de la Barra and made with a steel structure and polyvinyl cord.

I named them Bangladeshi because I had seen some stools in a Bangladeshi shop in London. They were these amazing, colorful stools made from bamboo and a strapping-like tape. They blew my mind. They were big, so I couldn’t bring one home. Instead, I decided to make my own interpretation and homage to those ones I saw.

Bigger thinking: As a designer, I’m always thinking of an object’s usability and expression. Also, I try to design pieces that are democratic — for everyone. I believe that there is beauty in everyday objects, even when we see them abandoned, or taken for granted.

Designed by Andrés Lhima and made with plastic mesh fabric.

I started playing with garbage, especially plastic bottles, and I wanted to experience what it would be like to sit on those bottles (which users can employ to fill the chair). The final material was part of an experimentation with other plastics, and I decided on the colorful material from which bags are made to go to the market in Mexico. I am very interested in working with materials and forms from Mexican popular culture, because I am a person from the neighborhood and that is something that I am proud of — in addition to the fact that this kind of design is often not accepted by some design purists.

Bigger thinking: It is a piece that I designed as a student. In order to produce it and pay the seamstresses, I sold candy at school and on the street. It is now part of the Vitra Design Museum and several museum collections.

Designed by Laura Noriega (under the brand Tributo) and made from birch, recycled plastic and cotton handwoven on a pedal loom.

I am fascinated by working with local materials and traditional processes, together with great craftsmen. The Your Skin chair was inspired by sensory memories of aromas and textures during my stay in Japan in 2012. The similarities between [Japanese] tatami and [Mexican] petate mats — both in aroma and a powerful texture that is weaved from natural fiber — fascinated me and inspired me to design the chair that contains a changeable “skin.”

Bigger thinking: The first prototype seat was dyed in red and bright pink and made in hanagoza, the textile the tatamis are made of. Now we make it from all kinds of traditional textiles from Mexico.

Designed by Ricardo Casas and made from wood, cotton and nylon rope.

The piece is inspired by and, in a certain way, a tribute to the Cuban designer Clara Porset, who collaborated with Luis Barragán, the absolute protagonist of Modernism in Mexico. These projects are a fundamental part of design in our country because they understand both the spaces they occupy and the objects that live in them, and how they relate to light and emotions.

Bigger thinking: Chairs have many challenges. They are an object where our body spends many hours in contact, so it requires a lot of structural, ergonomic development and selection of suitable materials.

Commissioned for “Have a Seat” and designed by Daniel Valero (under the brand Mestiz). Made from tule, threads and wicker.

“El Charco” pays homage to the lush habitats from which its raw materials emerged. These materials are transformed into furniture pieces that embody the flora and fauna of semidesert water bodies, including benches shaped like serpents, lampshades inspired by clouds, and floral sculptures. The most challenging part was crafting a bench that doesn’t just feel like a piece of furniture, but rather like a memorable wild creature.

Bigger thinking: I believe we’re experiencing a unique period in Mexico. The art and design scene is vibrant, flourishing in different regions and serving as an economic driver for rural areas and small cities. This marks a new era for artisanal design and decorative arts in Mexico.

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