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Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin unveils new gifts of handmade furniture in new exhibition
Wendell Castle, Desk, 1967. Cherry, mahogany, plywood, silver leaf, and lacquer, 40 x 96 x 72 inches. Racine Art Museum, Gift of SC Johnson in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Racine Art Museum. Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago, Illinois.

RACINE, WI.- Each year, the Racine Art Museum welcomes the newest gifts of artworks to its contemporary craft collection with a debut exhibition. Open through May 6, 2012, Sitting Pretty: Furniture from RAM's Collection celebrates the arrival of recent gifts of handmade furniture.

This show debuts pieces by artists Isaac Arms, Garry Knox Bennett, John Eric Byers, and Peter Pierbon who have contributed examples of their own work to the museum's collection. Sitting Pretty also features two major works by John Cederquist from the estate of Linda Brooks Sullivan as well as Karen Johnson Boyd's contribution of three chairs created by Clifton Monteith, Roy Superior, and Dick Wickman. Exhibited within the context of RAM's existing furniture collection, these new arrivals further underscore the depth of the museum's holdings.

Handmade furniture has always occupied a special place in homes and hearts. Historically, American furniture makers have distinguished themselves while employing European-based traditions and, more recently, by also integrating conceptual explorations that blur the line between sculpture and furniture.

In the last part of the twentieth century, many furniture makers began to earnestly use their work as a way to explore conceptual as well as functional ideas. Similar to other craft-based fields, this brought dynamic changes that were both applauded and reviled. The 1960s were particularly instrumental for new developments in furniture. As Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf state in their recent history of American studio craft: "If a single idea ran through the new experimental woodworking, it was self-expression. The idea that an artist could impress his or her emotional state on the material while creating a dynamic abstract composition emerged from painting, particularly the rhetoric of abstract expressionism."

Conceptual boundaries between furniture and sculpture blurred as "furniture" pieces began to look less and less traditional and artists employed new materials and processes. These developments took place alongside the creation of supremely functional and durable desks, tables, and chairs.

Sitting Pretty: Furniture from RAM's Collection offers diverse perspectives for thinking about contemporary studio furniture. The title of the exhibition is purposefully playful. Some of the works challenge notions of function and beauty while others add new dimensions to the forms utilitarian furniture can take.

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