A swish show: Personalities and their smart Swiss seats

August 14th, 2008 - 3:35 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ben Kingsley
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) Legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin represented Mario Bellini and Dieter Thiel’s straight-backed chair Persona and Hollywood actress Grace Jones liked to perch on the high-backed AC-2, while Grammy winner Phil Collins preferred the stylish Louis 20 chair that resonated with the intensity of his songs. Welcome to the world of famous personalities and their seats.

A daylong exhibition, “Vitra Personalities”, at the Swiss embassy here Wednesday brought to the country a unique collection of promotional campaign photographs of designer chairs made by Swiss furniture firm Vitra. The collection showcased advertising photography at its best.

The show was part of the cache of cultural and diplomatic events marking 60 years of the signing of the Friendship Treaty between India and Switzerland. The pact was signed in 1948, a year after India’s independence.

The collection comprised a spread of 120 photographs of personalities from movies, music, dance, fashion, design, art and architecture seated in their Vitra brand seats - in their trademark poses. Most of the personalities were not related to the world of advertising.

A photograph of Hollywood actor Ben Kingsley at Wednesday’s show was riveting. The actor sat on a T-chair, adjacent to Peter Ustinov, actor and UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) ambassador, who occupied the Imago chair. A little ahead, Martin Scorsese stretched out on the Aluminium Chair, a hep model befitting an ace Hollywood moviemaker.

The photographs, primarily a kind of straight-on-your face simplistic compositions of men on chairs, became works of high art because of the delicate play of light and shade and the fine craftsmanship of portrait and object photography.

The unique promotional concept lifted the collection out of mediocrity, giving each chair and photograph a life and personality of its own.

The photographs had been archived over a period of 10 years from 1987 to 1997, when Vitra was promoting its office chairs designed by some of the biggest names in architecture and design globally.

“The photographs are part of the Vitra project. It was conceived 20 years ago as an advertising campaign for the company, which was manufacturing cutting edge office furniture, especially seats.

“The company wanted to connect each chair with one personality to brand the products and endow the seats with the traits of the personality they represented,” explained Swiss architect Tiziano Barachino, who has conceived the travelling show.

The experiment, Barachino said, was to make an art project out of an advertising campaign so that the company’s initiative to allow architects to express themselves completely could be showcased to the world.

“The photographs are in black and white because it is easier to drive the message home,” the architect said.

Vitra’s advertising campaigns in native Switzerland have transcended commerce. For instance, a promotional for one of its brand - the Panton Chair - created a media sensation. The provocative campaign for the sleek office chair ran with the tagline- “How to Undress In Front of Your Husband” - for two years from 1965 to 1967.

It featured a series of photographs showing model Amanda Lear in various stages of undress next to a red Panton Chair. The photographs of the media campaign were shot in 1970 and archived.

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