On Art and the Ottoman, the Sofa, and the Drapes

Frederick: This is degrading. You don’t buy paintings to blend in with the sofa.
Dusty: It’s not a sofa – it’s an ottoman!

– Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters

To Match or not to Match?

At the turn of the 20th century, when painting and sculpture broke away from figurative depiction and divorced itself from traditional perspective, subject matter, and all other reflections of narrative interpretation, it became, instead, about pure form, color, emotion, light, composition, and intellectual concept.

In response savvy art dealers and galleries began to paint their walls white in an attempt to free the art object from its surroundings and place it outside of context where nothing could distract from its message. Distraction became a dirty word, a sin, in a sense, against the art object.

Cut to the present day, when no art snob worth her Celine tote would ever confess to having a particular carpet in mind when she purchased that Henry Moore sculpture. She had not an inkling of awareness when she placed a coverlet on her bed that matched coquettishly the pallet of her winking Roy Lichtenstein dots. No way did she open up her phone to peek at a photo of her dining room wall paper and Chihuly lamp when she purchased that perfectly brilliant Frankenthaler that tilts nonchalantly on her mantelpiece.

In fact the disdain for “matching the couch” has become so nearly universal that any Williamsburg bohemian sipping on artisanal beer will scorn you as a rube if you cop to it— rendering it a sheepish proposition to hang one’s art fair booty in a favorite living space. To the interior designer, this creates a problem: a tension between display space and living space that has to be settled without compromise.

At issue: if your Louise Bourgeois must not be affected by lighting or space, but rather, exist outside of it, beatified, and pure, then just how are you supposed to place it in the foyer? What window treatment goes best with reverence? And do we really spit in the bespectacled eye of good taste when we choose a Jean Arp for it’s keen blues and yellows that command a brightly painted and furnished dining area?

When the Room’s Already Painted

There are those who don’t think so. Without confessing to matching the couch, per se, Pamela Schaefer, Owner & Principal Staging Designer of Mile High Home Staging, says “Art and accessories should follow the decor of the room, otherwise you’ll end up with a design disconnect!”

True, dat. And face it, not all of us can design our room around a new and important purchase; some of us need to work with and around what we have. Still, some designers, possibly fearing accusations of “matching” décor to a de Kooning, will claim that everything falls together into a fortuitous bouquet of life and style if only one has taste and passion. Sandra McCauley, a California interior designer, puts it this way, “I have never seen a client choose an accessory or art that doesn’t tend to capture a consistent feel and look to what they have already chosen. Color likes and dislike typically are consistent i.e. they either like red or they don’t. Shapes are also consistent i.e. they either like circles or they don’t.”

When The Art Comes First 

Although building the room around your art collection is not a luxury that everyone can afford, it is the preferred approach. After all, the word “match” is what gets the dander up: it sounds too meddling— like something one’s babushka did with chintz and contact paper. Scott T. Pauli, a Milwaukee dealer of rare books and art, says “The disconnect occurs when furniture and colored walls are deemed more important, visually, than the art which is added as a final touch. One might, instead, acquire the art first and add furniture which then compliments and balances with the most important visual aspect of the room: the art.”

“The line of vision from Jerry’s pieces moves to the stairwell where a black and white Robert Motherwell print compliments the dark wood atop each stair.” Photo and quotation from Modern In Denver, a lifestyle magazine.

This article ©galleryIntell 2013