California artist Robert Wilhite was given an out-of-the ordinary assignment: he was asked to furnish an apartment for some very unusual tenants. Not only were the apartment dwellers likely to have strong opinions about design, but the tenant turnover would be also high -- so lots of different dwellers with lots of different ideas would be moving in and out. What Wilhite and a fellow Californian, David Ireland, produced was the combination art installation and living space for visiting artists at the Washington Project for the Arts' offices on Seventh Street Northwest.
Both artists worked on the overall concept for the apartment, known as "The Jade Garden." Ireland altered the physical space, while Wilhite worked on fabricating household objects. He designed and built several pieces of furniture, including a distinctive black triangular table with six matching side chairs, a maple and cherry bed, a small kitchen table and a floor lamp. From pink marble that he found on the premises, he constructed kitchen shelves.
Wilhite made one corner at the back of the table into a "gentle arc" that fits into the radius of the apartment wall. He says the six matching chairs "are versatile and can be used in the nooks throughout the apartment and also as tables."
A Los Angeles painter and performance artist, Wilhite began making furniture in the late 1970s as an extension of his work with theatrical sets and musical instruments -- which he prefers to call "sound sculptures." He acknowledges that his furniture "walks a fine line between art and nonart."
"I'm interested in transforming functional household items into art objects," he says. "I will be succeeding if I get people to look at these objects as more than the gray area of a house."
Wilhite has also designed a table with four different- sized balled legs, a parallelogram hope chest and sets of sterling silver flatware.
His work can be seen at Diane Brown Gallery in New York City and Asher/Faure Gallery in Los Angeles.
The WPA apartment is open to the public only a few weeks -- between artists' residencies. All of the pieces were made specifically for the apartment.