The Goods

A Review of the Very Extra Chair Designed by Neri Oxman That Allegedly Seduced Brad Pitt

Designer/artist/architect Neri Oxman in front of her piece.
Neri Oxman and her chair.
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Rumors of the romance between Brad Pitt and MIT professor Neri Oxman have been circulating since Page Six reported last week that the pair were “spending time” together. And now Us Weekly has put the romance on its cover, with cover lines touting the pair’s “SECRET LOVE TRIPS” and “Sexy nights in Neri’s Boston apartment!”

It appears that Pitt is, as they say in the business, pulling a Clooney. He has discovered a woman both absurdly glamorous and absurdly brainy, the kind of professor who seems like a love interest in an action movie, like Elisabeth Shue as an “electrochemist” in The Saint or Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough. Oxman has her own lab at MIT, where she practices in an area of such radical multidisciplinarity—biology, art, computation, engineering, and architecture, to name a few of the disciplines—that she had to coin up her own term for her field: material ecology. She favors Céline and Jil Sander, and she sports a perfect pile of “messy” curls that are an architectural accomplishment of their own.

A few other facts: Oxman, 42, won the Vilcek Prize in Design in 2014, and her TED Talk on “design at the intersection of technology and biology” has been viewed 1.8 million times. She loathes categorization, cherishes her independence, and treasures chivalry. She cites inspirations including the solar system, human intestines, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. Her work is in the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern art, the Centre Pompidou, and the Smithsonian. Her creations include 3-D–printed death masks, a domed installation woven by 6,500 silkworms, and a project called “fatemaps” in which, um, “the interaction between the directional morphology of the specimen and the tensor direction produce physical effects that emphasize the tissue’s spatial texture in different ways.” In other words, a classic Hollywood type!

The pair met in November, according to reports, through their collaboration on an unspecified architecture project. Also according to reports, what first drew Pitt to Oxman was a chair: specifically, Oxman’s Gemini chaise, a full-size 3-D–printed piece of “acoustic” furniture that she produced in 2014. After seeing a photo of the chaise, Pitt apparently arranged a meeting, and the rest is history. One wonders if the photos he saw were the glamour shots of Oxman herself reclining in what appears to be a black bodysuit.

Here is a video of Oxman talking about her chair:

And what a chair it is. That chair is a work of capital-D design, by which I mean that it looks like an absolute nightmare to use as a piece of furniture. Aesthetically, it is hideous, like a grotesque tongue. If you fall asleep in the chair and awaken suddenly, God forbid, you would bash your head on the “cocoon-like” wooden shell. Luckily, you are unlikely to fall asleep because you will be too busy contemplating “the complex and contradictory relationship between twins” that the chair is “about.” Then again, maybe you will be lulled by the 3-D–printed blobs your body rests on, which target specific pressure points on the body and also turn the chair into a soundproof echoless chamber. It’s probably not worth worrying about, however, because this is a chair meant to be discussed, not sullied by sitting.

They say we mock what we do not understand, and I am prepared to admit that I do not understand this chair. The important thing, however, is that Brad Pitt understands this chair. This chair spoke to him on a deep level before he had even met its glamorous designer. Pitt himself has dabbled in furniture design, after all, with creations including a white polyurethane-upholstered club chair that I also do not understand. Unexpectedly, then, I find myself invested in the romance between these two attractive designers of unattractive chairs. Oxman herself would never put it in such pedestrian terms, of course. So let’s try again: The coupling of Brad Pitt and Neri Oxman is “an opportunity to speculate about the future of our race on our planet and beyond, to combine scientific insight with lots of mystery, and to move away from the age of the machine.”

Ruth Graham is a regular Slate contributor. She lives in New Hampshire.