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Press Room

1/22/2004

Renwick Gallery Presents the Imaginative Designs of Studio Furniture Artists in "Right at Home: American Studio Furniture"

Media only: Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595
Amy Mannarino (202) 275-1592
Public only: (202) 633-1000
Web site: http://AmericanArt.si.edu/press


Media Open House: Tuesday, March 30, 3:30–5:30 p.m.


From elegant and streamlined to bright and bold, the designs in "Right at Home: American Studio Furniture" highlight the originality, craftsmanship and personalities of studio furniture artists. This exhibition, on view April 2 through Jan. 23, 2005 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, contains 58 objects by 47 artists, including both functional and purely sculptural pieces, with most created from 1990 to the present.

"Right at Home: American Studio Furniture" is the fourth exhibition in a series that surveys the craft collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum by specific medium—glass, clay, fiber, wood and metal—or by a specific craft category—jewelry, furniture, baskets and quilts.

"The museum continues to acquire new and groundbreaking works for the Renwick's collection from across the nation that capture the creativity in the field of studio furniture," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The hallmarks of studio furniture include one-of-a-kind, custom-designed pieces for the home created in small-scale shops, not mass-produced in factories. The pieces are purchased directly from an artist or a gallery. The value of the piece reflects the artist's vigorous conceptual approach to design and construction, rather than its usefulness as furniture.

Early studio furniture craft artists emerging after World War II reacted against factory-made production furniture in modern and colonial styles. Their unifying philosophy was a reverence for wood, especially mahogany, walnut and rosewood, and its innate properties. They treated wood grain as the decorative element and-although the furniture is assembled sculpturally-it is mostly functional. Sam Maloof, Wendell Castle, Wharton Esherick and George Nakashima are some of the innovators of this movement whose works are represented in "Right at Home: American Studio Furniture."

The artists who followed them continued to use traditional forms but found more creative ways of using wood, and their work is often intentionally less functional. These artists, working from the 1970s through 1990s, were generally educated in a design program at a college instead of through an apprenticeship program. Design is of primary importance, and furniture is a point of departure for creativity. Jere Osgood, Daniel Jackson, Alphonse Mattia and Kim Schmahmann are among the best-known of these artists.

Several different approaches appear in these artworks, including a new classicism, where pieces manifest purity of form and classic finishes; pure form, which becomes the major focus of the artist; Scandinavian modern, with clean lines and simple shapes taken from nature; color, in which the artist experiments with unusual finishes; metal, where furniture is cast out of nonwood materials; and sculpture, where furniture forms inspire the exploration of structure and content.

Jere Osgood's "Cylinder-Front Desk" (1989), in the new classicist style, makes reference to the past yet clearly represents a contemporary convergence of art and craft. He was inspired by a desk in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's furniture collection from 1790–1800. Similarly, Kim Schmahmann's "Bureau of Bureaucracy" (1993–99) was influenced by the Northern European 16th and 17th century cabinet of curiosities. At first glance, the bureau appears to be a well-designed example of superb cabinetwork, but opening the piece reveals a puzzle of considerable complexity and a metaphor about bureaucracy. The doors open and reveal rows of drawers that are hidden, solid or bottomless. Michael Hurwitz transcends an emphasis on wood and techniques with "Rocking Chaise" (1989) to build a fresh, innovative seating form that synthesizes elements from historical works, Eastern philosophy and contemporary needs.

Some furniture makers are more interested in color and finish than in any other aspect. In John Cederquist's "Chaise Marlin" (1999), form is secondary to the pop culture imagery of Disney cartoons and California surfers that he applies to his pieces. Wendell Castle uses furniture as a point of departure for purely sculptural forms. His well-known "Ghost Clock" appears to be a grandfather clock covered by a large sheet tied with a rope. After closer examination, the piece reveals a sculptural deception: the clock and covering are entirely hand-carved from a single piece of bleached mahogany.

"Right at Home: American Studio Furniture" is organized by the Renwick Gallery with support from the James Renwick Alliance, Julie Walters and Sam Rose.


Public Programs
A schedule of public programs, including lectures, demonstrations, performances and Family Days is available in a brochure. Call (202) 275-1500 to request a copy by mail or visit the museum's online program calendar at AmericanArt.si.edu.

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. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 357-1729 (TTY). Recorded information: (202) 275-1500. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu.

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