Robert Therrien, Tate Modern

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Robert Therrien transforms our relationship with familiar objects by changing their scale

These sculptures are household objects enlarged to three-and-a-half times the usual size. The normal functions of furniture and crockery become impossible. We can’t use them, but we can explore them. They provide an opportunity for a childlike perspective on the adult world.

Robert Therrien was born in 1947 in Chicago. The table and chairs he chose to scale-up, made by the Gunlocke Company, are typical of a mid-twentieth-century American interior. This was a time of economic growth in the United States. Domestic items such as tables, chairs and plates were produced in their thousands every day. Therrien’s sculptures show us details we might overlook in such common objects.

The works have various artistic and literary forerunners. Surrealist artists in the first half of the twentieth century made familiar things appear strange. Many tried to produce ‘uncanny’ experiences, defined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as ‘that class of frightening which leads back to what is … long familiar.’ Shifts in scale are central to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In these books a change of size is a playful way of exploring political and philosophical questions.


London SE1 9TG


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