March 1, 2015


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Lot 134: Tejo Remy

Lot 134: Tejo Remy

You Can't Lay Down Your Memory

Designed 1991
#55 of 200
Droog Design
Signed and with edition stamp; interior of each drawer with edition stamp
54.5" x 57" x 24"
Provenance: Mark McDonald, New York, New York;
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California
Literature: Ramakers, Renny. Simply Droog, 10 + 1 Years of Creating Innovation and Discussion. Amsterdam: Droog, 2004. 27.
Estimate: $15,000 - $20,000
Price Realized: $23,750
Inventory Id: 18033

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Designed in 1991, Tejo Remy's You Can't Lay Down Your Memory chest of drawers occupies a place at the margin between art and design: it is at once functional and sculptural. The piece debuted to great acclaim at the 1993 Milan Furniture Fair, as part of the inaugural collection by the famed conceptualist Dutch group Droog Design, and quickly became an emblem of avant-garde contemporary furniture-making.

You Can't Lay Down Your Memory is made up of 20 mismatched salvaged drawers, housed in custom-made maple sleeves that are bound together with a woven jute strap. The present lot is No. 55 from the original edition of 200 chests. Examples from this edition feature in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and other institutions.

For all its aesthetic brio and air of mirth, You Can't Lay Down Your Memory has been closely examined by curators, scholars, and other design experts, who have variously interpreted Remy's work as a manifestation of social, political, and environmentalist commentary. Tejo Remy spoke with Los Angeles Modern Auctions about his much-discussed design:

Los Angeles Modern Auctions: What was the origin of the name, or title, you gave to the chest of drawers?

Tejo Remy: It's a line from a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. [ "Knockin' on Joe," a track on the 1985 album The Firstborn is Dead.]

LAMA: What's the significance?

TR: One of the ways I look at the chest is that it's a metaphor for the human memory system. Socrates and the other ancient Greek and Roman philosophers had a technique they used to remember things. In their minds, they constructed a house, and in each of its rooms they put away special memories so they always knew where to find them. The drawers of the chest are like the rooms. You have a certain drawer for certain things, so you always recollect where they are.

LAMA: You've also mentioned Robinson Crusoe when you speak about the chest.

TR: Yes, that's another one of my thoughts about the piece. The character Robinson Crusoe had to build his own paradise, his own world, from the things he found after he was shipwrecked. I feel that in our world we also have to use the materials we find in our neighborhood—we should make do with what we have.

LAMA: A great deal of meaning has been invested in the design by others. For instance, the Museum of Modern Art's collection notes on the chest put it in this context: "In the hangover after the exuberance and excess of the 1980s, designers all over the world turned to a new value system based on economy, simplicity, and responsibility." What do you think of that view?

TR: In a way the design was a reaction, in the same sense that the colorful postmodern work of the Memphis Group was a reaction to how lifeless and stale modernist design had become by the '70s. And certainly by the early '90s we designers were very aware that the world was using up its resources. But I'm not sure how economical the chest is—a lot of labor goes into making one.

LAMA: Do owners ever reassemble the drawers in a new way?

TR: I hope they do! A chance to be creative gives the piece another kind of value. We would send the chest to buyers with the drawers disassembled, along with the strap and a photo of how that particular chest looked when we put it together in the studio. But people can do what they want. I once saw a picture of one that the owners had tried to put in a bathroom. They couldn't get the strap to hold everything together, so they just stacked the drawers against a wall. You really do need three people to assemble one.

LAMA: Even now, nearly 25 years after it debuted, the You Can't Lay Down Your Memory chest has a kind of power. When people see one—whether they are familiar with the design, or have never seen the piece before—they stop in their tracks.

TR: That's something that you never expect to happen—and it's such a pleasant surprise to see that effect. Maybe the piece was simply conceived and made at just the right mo-ment, I don't know. But you never expect to design an icon.

Lowry, Glenn D. MoMA Contemporary Highlights: 250 Works Since 1980 from The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008. Print. "You Can't Lay Down Your Memories." Search the Collections. The Victoria & Albert Museum, n.d. Web 1 Dec. 2014. "Search the Collections." Carnegie Museum of Art, n.d., Web 1 Dec. 2014.