From sofas to Swedish meatballs: Artist inspired by furniture company Ikea


As a consumer, Jason Salavon has had the experience of putting together the sleek, affordable furniture of popular retailer Ikea. As an artist, he decided he'd rather break the Scandinavian company down.

Salavon created a collection of works inspired by the global home furnishings chain whose typically mammoth blue and gold stores offer everything from build-it-yourself sofas to plates of Swedish meatballs.

The influence isn't always obvious. One of the centerpieces of Salavon's exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art is a soft-bound booklet with nothing more than blocks of colors arranged in different patterns on each of its 374 pages.

It's the artist's version of the Ikea store catalog, after a computer reduced each page of "Ektorp" model couches, "Svind" entertainment centers and other products to arrays of average colors. Large prints of some of the individual pages hang on the walls of the gallery.

"I'm interested in taking the known and abstracting it into some sort of new space," said Salavon, 37.

"Currents: Jason Salavon" runs through May 4 in Columbus. The exhibit is scheduled at the Inman Gallery in Houston from May 30 through July 5. Duplicates of some of the pieces were displayed this weekend at the Art Chicago 2008 contemporary art expo.

Another central piece of the exhibit projects a living room scene onto a slim, one-story panel. Through computer morphing, the Ikea-inspired furnishings slowly shift styles and colors over the course of two hours, though the room maintains its basic components: a sofa, chair, lamp, coffee table and rug.

Salavon, who minored in computer science and used to work on Nintendo 64 video games, said his art generally puts pop culture archetypes through computer permutations to spread them out into their root patterns.

One previous work deconstructed the movie "Titanic" into a mosaic of its individual frames, each one averaged out to its most representative color. In a piece acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Salavon layered and averaged 64 nights' worth of David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien late-night monologues into three ghostly videos projected side by side.

A project commissioned for the U.S. Census Bureau's new headquarters outside Washington will turn demographic data into billowing streams of color on a curving, 40-foot glass wall.

Salavon said he was drawn to Ikea because he'd heard that the company's catalog, sent to consumers around the world, is printed in greater numbers each year than the Bible.

While a grand total on global Bible distribution doesn't exist, it's popular to say that more than 100 million copies are distributed each year, Marco Herrera, director of international ministries for the American Bible Society, said in response to an e-mail.

Ikea's Web site shows 191 million copies of the Swedish retailer's catalog were printed worldwide last year.

Unlike the Bible, the catalog is meant to be replaced every year. Because it is both ubiquitous and a throwaway, it can tell us about the trends of the moment, seen clearly through Salavon's art, said Joe Houston, the museum's associate curator.

"You begin to see &

what are the popular colors, really, of 2007?" Houston said.

Salavon isn't the first artist to find his muse at Ikea, which has more than 270 stores worldwide. An arts agency in Seattle has sponsored short plays performed in an Ikea showroom. Earlier this year a comedian spent a week living in the model rooms of a New Jersey Ikea store for a series of videos posted on his Web site.

Ikea appreciates the attention from the art community, said Mona Astra Liss, a spokeswoman for the company's U.S. operations. She declined to comment directly on Salavon's works without having seen them but compared the use of Ikea in art to so-called Ikea hackers &

people who rework the furniture into their own designs and creations.

"We love all our fans and welcome them with open arms," she said.

Salavon said he probably wouldn't go so far as to call himself an Ikea fan, though he has shopped there.

"I've used the little Allen wrench to put things together and have had the instructions out on the floor trying to figure out what hooked into what," he said.

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