Monday, December 3, 2012

Folding Chair-Royal Opera House-Freud (3-9 December)

on this date in Design…

Folding Theater Chair, American inventor Aaron Allen, patented 5 December 1854
Royal Opera House, London, United Kingdom, opens 7 December 1732
Lucian Freud, German-born British painter, birthday 8 December 1922


A folding chair seems like such a simple concept and in fact it is.  After all there have been multiple versions of portable chairs dating back from nomadic tribes.  However, it appears as though it took millennia to reach the theater.  In Shakespearean times, those in the audience stood for the duration of the performance.  It is no wonder they might turn into harsh critics if the play not worth their tired feet.  Only those privileged enough to afford a balcony might find a space on a wooden bench.  Finally, in the mid-19th century Aaron Allen found a solution where a theater owner might appease the masses and retain maximum profits. 
With the folding theater seat, precious space was used efficiently as the aisle between rows could be narrowed.  The seats were still wooden but at least they were seats.  Today, theater owners continue to cater to their patrons as their seats have become larger, sumptuously upholstered and come with a cup holder (just like your car).  They know that if they keep the rabble happy they will be less likely to throw their popcorn at the screen.  But in reality, as “home theaters” become more and more sumptuous as well, the likelihood one might venture out to a theater has declined.  It is unlikely theater will die out completely which makes the overall viewer experience all the more important. 


By the time the first Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was built, Allen’s invention was more than a century away.  As can be seen in the image here, those on the floor are standing.  There have been a total of three theaters built on this site, the first being destroyed by fire in 1808.  That building designed by Edward Shepherd added to the religious complex begun by who can be described as the first significant British architect of the modern era: Inigo Jones. 
Interestingly, Jones started out as a theatrical designer before he reached notoriety as an architect.  The Royal Opera not only housed the company managed by John Rich, it also was the venue by which George Frideric Handel became one of the most significant composers of the era as musical director.  A large portion of his work was composed specifically for the venue. Unfortunately, Handel’s “Messiah” which debuted in Dublin in 1742 to great applause and adulation was harshly criticized when it was presented at the Royal Opera a year later.
The critics thought it too exalted a piece to be performed in a theater by singers in secular garb rather than in a cathedral.  It has of course become his most celebrated and most performed work of all time.  It is assured it will be heard at least once this Christmas season at some point. 


If Sigmund Freud made you uncomfortable with the subconscious thoughts you might be harboring about your mother, then his grandson Lucian makes you even more so as you are compelled to stare into the exposed souls of his subjects.  Among those who have willingly and wholeheartedly bore their souls to him include a pregnant Kate Moss and the Queen of England. 
The nudes who sat for Lucian Freud are not only free of clothes but seem to let lose all their emotions and thoughts to the canvas.  Flesh tones highlight what appear to be the most unattractive portions of the figure which in turn make them compelling, captivating and beautiful.  A few years ago, a U.S. television show did a piece on an exposition of his only to receive a mountain of angry letters from viewers. 
The most upsetting thing to them was producers had chosen to film the work with strategically placed visitors in front what might be argued as offensive anatomy to act as natural censor bars.  It appears that even over the television screen, Lucian Freud’s work begs to be seen completely exposed. 


Globe Theater, London, U.K. 
iPic Movie Theaters 
IMAX Movie Theaters 

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, U.K.
Annotated full fa├žade of the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House Collections online
Biography of Inigo Jones from the Royal Insitute of British Architects
Handel House, London, U.K.
Handel's Messiah Hallelujah Chorus

Article on Lucian Freud, CBS Sunday Morning
Slideshow of Lucian Freud work, CBS Sunday Morning
Lucian Freud work on artnet
Lucian Freud work at MoMA, NYC
Interview with Lucian Freud, 1988 
Obituary for Lucian Freud, the Daily Mail

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