It’s not your grandmother’s rocking chair. That sleek, aerodynamic — almost windswept — chair of oil-finished bubinga wood looks more like a sculpture than an heirloom. It’s so out there, you probably wouldn’t even think of sitting in it.
“It’s a rocking chair in the purist form so that it doesn’t even matter if it you can rock in it,” says Lowry Stokes Sims, curator for New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. She’s the creator of Against the Grain, an exhibit that opened Saturday at the Nova Southeastern University Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.
This chair, which is part of the exhibit, is the work of Wendell Castle, a New York furniture designer. In fact Against the Grain contains 90 works by almost 60 artists, designers and crafts people.
Together their wood working involves deconstructing shapes, playing with the relationships between function and form, and using woodturning and furniture-making techniques to bring furniture out of the realm of the functional into that of art and sculpture.
The antithesis of Rooms to Go, this show is the work of people who take that dresser where we keep our clothes, that chair where we lounge, that table where we eat dinner or the chest in which we lose our keys and elevate them to one-of-a-kind, museum-quality sculptures in wood.
“I am an artist and not a furniture designer,” says Courtney Smith whose piece, San Antonio, appears in the show. “They are fundamentally different beings and my intentions as an artist are fundamentally different from those of a designer,” she says.
Thus she isn’t concerned with how her creations feel to the user or if they work effectively and efficiently. “Instead, I have the luxury of art and the difficulty as well,” she says.
Her contribution to the show is one in a series of works she created from 1950s vintage dressers that she collected while living in Brazil. Here the original chest of drawers was fashioned from fine wood to imitate antique French style.
“What I did is to look at the function of the original piece and start to think of ways to subvert that function while giving it new potential,” she says from her studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
She created modules from plywood that could be added to the original cabinetry to form cubbies, drawers and shelves that actually function. These additions that came from “the language of cabinetry” were inserted into the original chest in such a way that they invaded its structure.
“By taking over its original function, the additions eventually transcended the limits of the original piece of furniture,” she explains.
As an artist, she chose plywood because it accentuated the contrast between the original solid wood construction and her replications and reproductions. “I wanted to have a contrast that would make it very clear this was not only another form that was imitating the use of the dresser but also an alien part penetrating the original piece,” she explains.
Many of the art works in the show have been created since 2000 in order to challenge the traditional designs and craft of woodworking.
Consider the work of Mark Moskovitz, a Cleveland designer who creates perfectly functional yet artful dressers based on a eureka moment in his creative life.