Is furniture "art"? That question will be answered at a symposium scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 25, at the Salt Lake Art Center.

But you can find out the answer ahead of time. Just stop by SLAC's Main and Upstairs galleries and gaze at the current exhibits."A Dozen & One Utah Furniture Makers" (Main Gallery) and "High Art, High Chair" (Upstairs Gallery) dot the floors, not the walls. That's an interesting twist. Usually the art is on the walls; and there's no place to sit down to enjoy the exhibit.

However, these chairs are not for YOU to sit on. That honor is reserved for their makers, prospective buyers and/or owners.

- In the spotlight in the Main Gallery are exquisite, handmade furniture pieces by 13 Utahns.

The saying "no man is perfect" apparently doesn't apply to the furniture makers, whose one-of-a-kind pieces reveal exquisite, impeccable craftsmanship. Form and function coexist beautifully. In fact, one enhances the other.

Allison South, director of SLAC, said that these incredible pieces of furniture "blur the boundary we often place between art and function."

Stephen Goldsmith, guest curator of the show, said, "The 13 individuals whose work built this exhibition are torch bearers of a new, hand-built crafts movement. Their tradition of furniture making is not just built from utility or necessity, but from ingenuity, truth to the materials and devotion to the craft."

Certainly, Utah furnituremakers today enjoy advantages that early pioneers did not. Before the railroad made it possible for wood from all over the world to be available in Utah, early furnituremakers were forced to use softwoods. As a result, they tampered with the integrity of the wood, covering it with wood-graining techniques to make it appear as rosewood, maple or oak.

But the "A Dozen and One Utah Furniture Makers" exhibit reeks of integrity. Each designer/furnituremaker proudly reveals the intrinsic beauty of such woods as koa, mahogany, maple, cherry, black walnut, red narra, wenge, bubainga, ebony walnut and other hardwoods. They have used materials honestly and in ways that show the natural beauty of the different surfaces.

You will be intrigued by the simplicity of Robert Bliss' chair and foot stool; the graceful, functional lines of Andrew Glantz's chairs; and the innovative, conceptual furniture by sculptor Tom Tessman.

Take time to carefully scrutinize the craftsmanship and exquisite surfaces of such pieces as Rhees Ririe's "Ladies Writing Table and Chair"; Earl Sevy's "Inlaid Table"; and Kaethe Radomski's "Dictionary Stand" and "End Table."

This visually compelling exhibit was organized and is being circulated by the NEH Museum of Art in Logan.

- Complementing this show is "20th Century Furniture" in the Upstairs Gallery. Curated by interior designer Walter Cowie, this exhibit demonstrates the European approach to manufactured rather than hand-crafted furniture.

Many Europeans have accepted the fact that when furniture is created with an artistic intent, it's considered "art."

Commenting on mass-produced, contemporary European furniture, Cowie said, "It is beautiful and artful enough to be exhibited in museums, but common enough to be available to every family in every department store in Europe."

At first glance, some of the pieces appear to be sculpture pieces - "Eames 1948 Chaise" ($3,895), designed by Americans Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra in Switzerland; "Scroll Chair" ($1,420) by Finland's Alvar Aalto; "Well Tempered Chair" ($5,064) by Israel's Ron Arad; and "How High the Moon" ($5,194), an extruded steel chair by Shiro Kuramata of Japan.

In addition to the "Is Furniture Art?" symposium, the SLAC has scheduled free art-lunch lectures where qualified furniture makers will discuss these exhibits. On Feb. 20, March 6 and 27, Stephen Goldsmith, O. Rhees Ririe and Michael Iannone will lecture on "A Dozen and One Utah Furniture Makers" exhibit. On Feb. 27, March 13 and 20, Prescott Muir, Magda Jakovcev-Ulrich and Clinton Call will discuss "20th Century Furniture."

These exhibits continue through March 29 at the SLAC, 20 S. West Temple. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

- The contemporary flavor of these furniture shows is also evident in the exhibition of new works by painter Layne Meacham at Dolores Chase Fine Gallery.

Meacham became a gallery regular last year after Chase moved to her new location at 260 S. 200 West.

In talking about the artist's work, Chase said, "He's a very right-brain person. His gestures are primitive and childlike; they're random, yet honest. What impresses me is how the paintings pull together into a dynamic, pleasing `Kandinskyesque' composition."

Apparently there are others who share Chase's viewpoint. Two out-of-state buyers have just purchased several of Meacham's mixed-media paintings.

When creating his work, Meacham combines acrylic, oil stick, pastel, charcoal, enamel, latex and pencil. For more pronounced texture, he often adds pieces of insulation and sand.

While attending junior high school (1961-63), Mea-cham became immersed in abstract expressionism under the tutorship of Park City artist/educator David Chaplin. He continued to take art classes while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in social work at Westminster College and a master's degree, also in social work, at Columbia University and the University of Utah.

The artist admits that much of what he does is the result of "controlled accident." And he says it is triggered by conscious/unconscious experiences.

Some of the other local artists exhibiting new, provocative works at the Dolores Chase Gallery are Lee Deffebach, Doug Himes, Brian Kershisnik, Edie Roberson and Moshe Smith.

Mecham's show, titled "The New Automatism," will continue through March 12. Gallery hours are noon to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2-5 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, call 328-2787.