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'Against the Grain' at the Museum of Arts and Design explores emerging trends in contemporary woodworking
Juan Muñoz, Chopping Block, 2001. Wood, kitchen knife; Edition of 25. Image courtesy Estate of the artist; Photo: Cuauhtli Gutierrez.
NEW YORK, NY.- Featuring nearly 90 installations, sculptures, furniture, and objects, Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design explores the most cutting-edge conceptual and technical trends in woodworking today. On view March 19 through September 15, 2013 at the Museum of Arts and Design, the exhibition emphasizes the way artists, designers, and craftspeople have incorporated post-modernist approaches and strategies into woodworking—deconstructing vessel shapes, playing on the relationship between function and form, and utilizing woodturning and furniture techniques in the creation of sculpture. The works, most of which have been created since 2000, challenge traditional applications of wood within the design and craft worlds, and exemplify the wide-ranging, frequently unexpected, approaches to the medium by contemporary artists and designers.

MAD’s presentation will feature 57 artists and designers with new works by artists Sarah Oppenheimer, Martin Puryear, Marc Andre Robinson and Alison Elizabeth Taylor, and by designers Ian Spencer and Cairn Young from Yard Sale Project, and Joseph Walsh. Also included are recent works by influential sculptors Ursula von Rydingsvard and Courtney Smith; installation artists Gary Carsley and Francis Cape, designers Maarten Baas, Sebastian Errazuriz, and Pablo Reinoso; and studio wood artists Wendell Castle, Hunt Clark, Andrew Early, and Bud Latven, among others.

The exhibition explores several thematic threads that encapsulate the breadth of creative production in wood. Many of the artists and designers are inspired by wood’s most natural state as trees, utilizing branches, logs, and planks and creating works that draw upon the wood’s grains, textures, and patterns. Others fuse a variety of wood elements together to create distinctly new visual forms, producing a more powerful experience than the individual parts might allow. Digital techniques have also transformed woodworking, allowing creators to manipulate materials and produce illusions that were previously impossible. The use of wood as a material to convey political and social content, as well as humor and visual puns, has also grown and been refined as artists experiment with the medium. Additionally, environmental issues will be woven throughout the exhibition as increased ecological consciousness is implicit in the work of all contemporary woodworkers.

“Wood is a ubiquitous material and a medium of basic function as well as tremendous versatility. In the last several decades, artists have truly begun to test its creative boundaries, expressing and expanding wood’s aesthetic and conceptual possibilities,” says Sims. “The artists featured in Against the Grain represent the forward-thinking approach that has spurred the medium’s renaissance.”

Highlights from the exhibition include the following works:

• A wingback chair by Martin Puryear that was created specially for MAD’s presentation of the exhibition. Combining the exquisite craftsmanship and elegant design for which Puryear is best known, the chair walks the delicate line between functional furniture and art object.

• Marc Andre Robinson’s site-specific installation in MAD’s lobby, which fuses a set of chairs into an unbroken circle, subsuming their functional purpose.

• An architectural intervention by Sarah Oppenheimer developed for one of MAD’s moveable gallery walls, creating an unexpected view across the 4th floor space.

• Mark Moskovitz’s fully-functional chest of drawers—mimicking wood stockpiled for the winter—exemplifies the type of camouflage and secret compartments that have long been an intriguing feature of furniture. His Facecord Chest, 2011, was inspired by the haphazard geometry of cordwood and the accidental poetry in its stacking.

• In Oddychająca, 2011, Ursula von Rydingsvard manipulates a field of flat 2-by-4 beams into an organic form that gently curves out into space.

• Designers Ian Spencer and Cairn Young of Yard Sale Project produce furniture that combines computer-aided design and traditional construction techniques. They will present Roccapina V, 2012, a chair whose richly patterned surface resembles a volumetric quilt.

• Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s installations of illusionistic marquetry, which recreate architectural elements of abandoned houses—including linoleum floors or painted and papered walls whose many layers have been worn away after years of water damage.

• Maarten Baas’ “smoked” version of a Marc Newson chair, which has been torched and rendered nonfunctional and yet maintains lyricism and elegance in its new sculptural form.

• A painted diptych by Judith Beltzer, which transforms tree bark patterns into a new vocabulary for abstraction. In Inner Life of Trees #1, 2007, the grooving of the tree bark appears as a landscape of hills and valleys.

• A chest of drawers by artist Courtney Smith, whose functionality has been subverted by the insertion of arbitrary rectangles and boxes of plywood. The resulting sculpture challenges ideas of structural integrity and authorship as Smith intrudes on existing design elements.

• Ai Weiwei’s 2008 evocation of a cluster of “grapes” in his eccentric assembling of ten simple Qing Dynasty stools, rendering the group useless.

• Gary Carsley’s cabinet installation is part of an ongoing project of photographing parks and landscapes all over the world, printing them on vinyl, and then applying them to walls and IKEA furniture. He plays with our sense of space as the print blends the wall and furniture together into one landscape environment.

• Cameroon-born artist Barthélémy Toguo’s large-scale stamp, hewed out of a block of wood and engraved with “Who is the true terrorist?,” taps into the tradition of the woodblock-printed image and evokes the political paranoia infecting recent international relations.



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