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Illusionistic Furniture of John Cederquist
Opens March 31 at Renwick Gallery

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

A selection of thirteen works made during the last two decades by pre-eminent furniture artist John Cederquist is featured in a new exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The Art of John Cederquist: Reality of Illusion" opens March 31 and continues through Aug. 20. Cederquist appropriates standard furniture forms—chests of drawers, chairs, benches, tables—to execute painterly illusions. The exhibition is based on a retrospective organized by the Oakland Museum of California in 1997.

"John Cederquist is more interested in communicating ideas through his furniture than in celebrating the beauty of woods or fine woodworking techniques," said Jeremy Adamson, Renwick senior curator and coordinating curator for the exhibition. "His nonfunctional furniture challenges the modernist ideal that form follows function, all the while posing the question, 'What is real?'"

A lifelong Southern Californian, Cederquist studied graphic arts and then switched to craft classes, where he worked with three-dimensional objects. When he graduated with a master's degree in 1971 from Long Beach State College (now California State University, Long Beach), he was making furniture and wooden objects incorporating leather-formed tubes.

In 1976, Cederquist began teaching at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Orange County, where he continues to work today. While leading a class in two-and three-dimensional design in 1979, the artist became interested in the relationship between the two dimensions. Around this time, he discovered a whole world of imagery in cartoons, particularly in Popeye episodes that he watched with his young daughter. Fascinated by quirky representations of furniture in two-dimensions and later by furniture illustrations in manufacturers' trade catalogues, Cederquist set out to create similar effects in freestanding constructions. From here, his unique artistic vision was born.

Cederquist has commented, "A dimensional object in this day and age ultimately becomes an image. An image of a car is more important than the car …. A long time ago, I realized that since my furniture was going to be seen as an image, I might as well start with an image."

He first carves the shape of the object, whether a chest of drawers or a table, then paints the details on the surface. What emerges is an illusion of the object in three-dimensions. In "Tubular" (1990), for example, a gigantic wave—based on the "The Great Wave" by 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai—bursts out of a tall stack of shipping crates. A fully loaded housepainter's brush becomes part of the chair that it appears to have just painted in "Stroke of Genius" (1994); the title is a pun, as are many of Cederquist's titles for artworks. In "Ghost Boy" (1992), replete with painted turned finials and a classic broken pediment, Cederquist pokes fun at the stately Colonial American high chest.

"Those who mistake Cederquist's humor for frivolity will miss his pointed message: image is content," Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick, wrote in the 1997 retrospective catalogue. "Some might think there is less than meets the eye in Cederquist's fascination with illusionistic effects, but when I look at the art of John Cederquist, I am reminded of the adage, 'To think of nothing is not the same as not thinking.' Cederquist creates art for the thinking person."


The Art of John Cederquist: Reality of Illusion was organized by the Oakland Museum of California and funded by the Oakland Museum Women's Board and the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition's presentation at the Renwick Gallery is supported in part by the Smithsonian's Special Exhibition Program.

Public Programs

April 2, Slide Lecture, 3 P.M.
Cederquist discusses the various sources of inspiration of his work, from cartoons and advertising to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints of Hokusai.
Renwick, Room 105
Please note: Seating for this lecture is available for 35 people only on a first-come, first-served basis.

April 2, Artist's Gallery Talk, 4 P.M.
Cederquist leads a tour through the exhibition.
Renwick, Lobby

June 23, Exhibition Discussion, 1 P.M.
Participants join in a discussion of the exhibition with Renwick public programs coordinator Allen Bassing.
Renwick, Lobby

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998.